Kings hope things are great, or at least better, outdoors this time

San Jose Sharks players Patrick Marleau, left, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic practice at Levi's Stadium for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game against the Kings.
(Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Darryl Sutter couldn’t help feeling more like a father than a coach — he does have two adult sons — when it came time to decide who would play for the Kings in the Stadium Series game last year against the Ducks at Dodger Stadium.

Or in this case, who would not.

It greatly pained the Kings coach to sit veteran defenseman Matt Greene for such a historic occasion and he has spoken several times since about having to make such a tough call. Greene was coming off an injury, and he remembers being with the other scratched players at Dodger Stadium and working out during the game.

“I wasn’t 100% healthy,” Greene said. “You don’t really worry about it too much. Obviously it’s a cool experience but at the end of the day, it’s doing what’s best for the team.


“It’s a special event, a cool thing to do. Darryl cares about all of us in here. He definitely means it. He’s talked to us about it before too.”

So this will be the first outdoor NHL game for several Kings players, including Greene, on Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks at Levi’s Stadium. Talented young forward Tyler Toffoli was a healthy scratch for the Dodger Stadium game and defensemen Brayden McNabb and Jamie McBain were with other organizations last season.

“It sucked,” Toffoli said “I’m not going to lie. But it’s just the way it goes. I guess I got lucky and I get to play in one this year.”

Sutter said he would like to have the roster expanded for such occasions.


“I know I’m old school, but why wouldn’t you, if you have 23 healthy guys on your roster, why wouldn’t you be able to dress 23 guys?” he said Friday night after Kings’ practice at Levi’s Stadium. “The hardest thing for me last year wasn’t anything other than not letting Matt Greene play.

“Because you didn’t know you were getting another game. Especially when you won with them and the type of players they are. Why wouldn’t you? You’ve got to tell guys they’re not playing tomorrow and they may never get another chance again.”

These events are usually a blend of novelty and spectacle. There was a beach volleyball court in left field at Dodger Stadium last year, and here, there are a couple of wading pools in the areas outside the rink and some bumpy green turf (supposed to evoke mountains) that looks like it was lifted from the set of the old “Teletubbies” children’s TV show.

KISS played at Dodger Stadium, and rocker John Fogerty is the headliner for this game at Santa Clara.


Of course, it may not be a good sign for the Kings if Fogerty plays “Deja Vu (All Over Again).” They lost, 3-0, to the Ducks at Dodger Stadium, and Kings center Anze Kopitar was stopped by the Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller on a penalty shot.

Kings forward Justin Williams said the team will benefit from having gone through the experience, and won’t be affected by playing in front of an expected crowd of 70,000 at the home of the NFL’s 49ers.

“I think it helped: the scene, the lighting, the fact that it’s our second one,” Williams said. “It was definitely a feeling-out process last time. By the time we got around to it, it was too late.”

Williams paused and added another thought: “We’re definitely going to score a goal this time.”


The show on ice has plenty of substance attached in terms of playoff implications. San Jose sits two points ahead of the Kings in the race for the final wild-card spot, but the Kings have three games in hand. It has been said that this might be the most important outdoor game this season because of the playoff race and its late placement on the schedule.

“I think that’s great. It adds an extra aspect,” said Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, who added that skating on a rink in the middle of a football stadium felt like being “on an island.”

“It’s going to be maybe one of the odder playoff-type atmospheres that you’re going to see,” he said.

Sutter felt the ice at Dodger Stadium was better than the ice at Levi’s Stadium. Coaches and players are creatures of habit and they especially like control, and here comes an important game, outdoors, where the elements are impossible to manipulate.


“It just happens to be outside,” Kopitar said. “Maybe in the beginning of the year, if somebody would have asked us, ‘Do you want to play this game indoors or outdoors,’ we’d probably pick indoors. I’m sure it’s going to be fun once we’re out there on the ice. Everything is going to fade away, all the distractions are going to be gone. Just gotta go out and play.”

Twitter: @reallisa