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Stadium Series not just another game
Sharks and Kings ready for grand affair
2/20/15 - By Mike Lee -

This isn't going to be your run of the mill hockey game on Saturday night. The Sharks and Los Angeles Kings got their first taste of Levi Stadium ice on Friday and from the looks of it, this is going to be quite the spectacle. The NHL has pulled out all the stops for the Stadium Series game scheduled for their showcase event in Santa Clara. From the locale to the trimming, this is shaping up to be something folks are going to remember for a long time.

"You remember the ones you win," said Sharks goal scoring leader Joe Pavelski after the Sharks practice wrapped up at Levi's Stadium on Friday afternoon. Pavelski was responding to a question about his experiences with outdoor games. Pavelski played in a roofless game when he was at the University of Wisconsin.

The thing is, Pavelski's going to remember this one regardless of the outcome.

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The atmosphere alone is going to make this one a memorable one. The NHL announced that the game was sold out on Friday, which means 70,000 plus will be in attendance at the newest sports facility in California.

Placing a hockey rink in the middle of a football stadium means more than four times the number of people will be watching a hockey game in Northern California. SAP Center holds 17,562 people. There's no roof to bottle up the crowd noise, but rest assured that it's going to be loud.

The biggest challenge for both teams is going to be tuning out the pomp and circumstance and playing quality hockey. That's easier said than done. Everything is different Saturday night. The lighting, the temperature, the humidity, the noise, not to mention that neither team has played a regulation game on the temporary rink setup at the 50 yard line.

If anyone has the advantage, it's the Kings, who played an outdoor game last season at Dodger Stadium. That Southern California match-up with the neighboring Ducks was a warm weather affair. Temps in Santa Clara are expected to be warmer than normal for northern California is February, but it should be cooler than what the Kings and Ducks had to endure last year.

The Sharks took the ice for practice at 3:30pm on Friday as the sun dipped behind Levi Stadium's West side luxury boxes. Regardless, it was hot. Every Sharks player commented on the heat during practice.

"It was hot from the second shift out there," said Sharks enforcer John Scott.

Temperatures at ice level dropped considerably when the Kings took the ice three hours after the start of the Sharks practice. A slight breeze that whipped through the stadium helped cool things down. The practice looked like any other for the Kings, albeit an obvious focus on counter attacking plays. Darryl Sutter focused a good part of his practice on turning the puck up ice, perhaps in preparation for an opponent that could be affected by the new environment that Levi's Stadium will bring.

The Sharks will also have to deal with their emotions. Getting caught up in the bravado of the event is something San Jose will have to put in check.

Scott admitted that he and his teammates will need to get past the adrenaline injection that the environment is sure to provide.

"It's another hockey, just in a different setting," said Scott. "We need to get past that first 5 minutes of the game without getting caught up in things and get out there and play."

Younger guys like Tomas Hertl may have to commit a little more focus. The Sharks sophomore forward with the infectious smile couldn't contain his excitement for the game, but also tried to make it clear that he understands where his team stands.

"This team has been up and down all season," said Hertl. Every game last year we had 50 shots a game. Now we're shooting half that. Hopefully we w in and start something. I'm so excited for tomorrow. There's going to be 70,000 people out there, but every game is a playoff game for us now. We need every win."

Matt Neito was asked how he felt about playing an outdoor game in his native California.

"I never thought we'd be playing an outdoor game here, but it shows how far hockey has come in California," Nieto told reporters.

Tommy Wingels echoed Nieto's comments on California's emergence as a hockey state.

"The fact there are American Hockey League Teams moving out there, shows that California is a hockey market," said Wingels. "We work out in the biggest hockey facility west of the Mississippi. This is a hockey market".

California's emergence as a hockey haven also played a part in having back to back outdoor games in the state. Given the stops that the NHL is pulling out for the game, there's evidence that California has driven a credibility stake in the hockey landscape.

The 70,000 in attendance are unlikely to think this is going to be just another game.

Join the discussion throughout game day in the Stadium Series Game Day Thread on the LGS Message Boards.


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