The new home of the San Francisco 49ers will be transformed into a hockey rink this winter.
The reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings find themselves in another outdoor game in their home state, this time in Levi’s Stadium, the brand new home of the San Francisco 49ers’ NFL franchise, against an all too familiar opponent, the San Jose Sharks.
There is certainly no love lost between these two teams. The Kings and Sharks have played one another more than any other two teams since the beginning of the 2010-11 season. They have played 41 games during that span, including two seven-game playoff series. The most recent occurred this year, when the Sharks jumped out to a 3-0 series lead in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against Los Angeles, but would end up losing the next four games to the Kings who eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Now, the two teams will meet again, but this time in front of a potential crowd of 68,500 in Northern California outside in the elements. The elements, however, will not be snow or bitter cold temperatures, but weather that casual hockey fans might consider to be too warm to wear hockey jerseys.
Adding extra outdoor games seemed like a great idea for the NHL, which had generated a great deal of revenue since the birth of the Winter Classic in the 2003-04 season, but when it was announced that there would be a Stadium Series involving a game in Dodger Stadium between the Anaheim Ducks and aforementioned Kings, some people were worried about the ice not being able to withstand the warm February temperatures. But despite it being 63 degrees and sunny on that day, 54,099 hockey fans packed a baseball stadium to watch the warmest every hockey game in NHL history and the ice held up without being much of a problem. The Stadium Series turned out to be a great success everywhere, including California.
This not only showed that competitive and exciting hockey could be played out in the California heat, but more importantly that hockey was, in fact, popular in California. The Kings winning two of the last three Stanley Cups has certainly helped the popularity of hockey out in The Golden State, but the fact that 54,000 plus Ducks and Kings fans were willing to pack Dodger Stadium to watch their teams play proved that they are as excited for outdoor hockey as fans that were willing to pack Yankee Stadium to watch the New York Rangers, Islanders and New Jersey Devils play. Granted, it was much easier to sit outdoors in 60 degree weather in California than in below freezing, snowy weather in New York, but the point still stands that the Stadium Series was successful, even in the heat out West.
The NHL made a bold decision placing another Stadium Series game in California this year, when places like Colorado were also supposedly willing to host one, but it couldn’t have picked a better rivalry to bring to the new home of the 49ers. The Sharks and Kings hard-fought battles in the playoffs have been some of the most exciting to watch in the last few postseasons, not to mention the fact that these two teams legitimately hate each other.
Hockey is an easy sell in places like New York, Chicago and Detroit, but getting fans from California and Florida to share that same passion and drive has been difficult for the NHL over the years. However, with the first edition of the Stadium Series at Dodger Stadium and the recent success of the Kings, that has begun to change. The Stadium Series game between the Kings and Sharks will be exciting, intense and overall just great for the sport of hockey in general. The Kings will try to avenge a 3-0 loss to the Ducks in last season’s Stadium Series game on the road against a Sharks team that is still probably wondering how the Kings managed to defeat them in this year’s playoffs. And possibly even more important than all of that: what will the jerseys of the Kings and Sharks look like?