By Mike Olson
If you were born and raised in Southern California like me, you’re not programmed to like hockey. It’s a state that shoves the likes of the MLB, NFL, and NBA down your throats. The problem with that? You don’t get the opportunity to watch the best sport there is. Southern California has the best weather in the USA and with the temperature average around 75 degrees, it is prime baseball weather year long. And that includes hockey season. Not many people think of going to a hockey game wearing shorts and sandals. But thanks to two recently successful teams in Southern California it’s becoming more of the norm.
The National Hockey League is quickly growing in popularity in So Cal. As of 2015 there are currently 12 active hockey players in the NHD from California. Brooks Orpik (San Francisco) of the Washington Capitals, Beau Bennett (Gardena) of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Emerson Etem (Long Beach) of the Anaheim Ducks are the most recognizable of the group. There are currently 25 indoor ice arenas throughout the state. Not to mention the numerous roller rinks and kids playing street hockey in the driveway at home.
With the current success of the Anaheim Ducks becoming the first west coast team to win the Stanley Cup in 2007 and the Los Angeles Kings winning the cup in 2012 and 2014 there’s no doubt that more people are talking about hockey on the Golden Coast. Going to sports bars to watch games has become quite the social event. I remember going to bars and asking to put on a hockey game, people would give you a weird look and not understand what you were asking for. Now during the playoffs the Ducks and Kings have viewing parties whether that be at the arena or at a sports bar.
The Kings and Ducks have become one of the most intense rivalries in sports, known more commonly to the fans as the “Freeway Series.” Does this rivalry have a long history? No, but in the last decade all the Ducks vs. Kings series have become the hottest ticket in town. The two fan bases go back and for chanting “Let’s Go Ducks” and “Go Kings Go.” Then you have the intensity of the playoffs and it seems like every other year these two teams leave it all on the ice to try and advance. If you have never been to a Ducks vs. Kings playoff game I highly recommend it; even if you’re a casual fan of the sport. My one piece of advice, go to a live game before you judge this sport. The hard hitting and fast pace of the game is like nothing else. I have taken many people to games that didn’t care for hockey that thought it was boring because they only watched it on T.V., but by the end of the first period they were hooked.
California became part of history on January 25th 2014, when it hosted an outdoor hockey game as part of the “NHL Stadium Series.” The whole world watched the Los Angeles Kings host the Anaheim Ducks at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. The game was such a success the NHL wanted more and decided to have the San Jose Sharks face-off against the Kings at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, CA on February 21, 2015. Coincidence that the following season the NHL decided to move five AHL teams to California? Thanks to three Stanley cups in eight years the popularity of this sport has taken off in the Golden State of California, and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon.