With hockey on hold, Honda Center parking lot becomes pop-up site for weddings and more
The happy couple wore matching black Ducks caps, and matching white surgical masks. They stepped right up to the ticket booth, took turns saying “I do” to the stranger behind the glass, then celebrated with their first kiss as husband and wife.
With masks on.
Love might not be defeated by a killer virus, but it does make accommodations. In the end, love wins, as it did when two diehard Orange County hockey fans got to marry outside the arena where their favorite team plays.
“It was just awesome,” Lynsey Koopman said.
To Koopman and Jayson Furusawa, both 41, this was the fairy tale wedding they neither planned nor expected. The couple has been together 13 years, and Koopman said getting married largely was about qualifying for an insurance policy.
The NHL has prolonged its stay-at-home recommendation to the point where it would be wise to cancel the remainder of the regular season.
“We just wanted the piece of paper,” she said.
The couple had a March 21 appointment for a civil ceremony, but by then the county courthouse had closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. Hugh Nguyen, the county clerk-recorder, scrambled to find an alternate location for civil ceremonies.
Movie theaters? Staying closed. The county fairgrounds? Set aside for portable housing during the crisis and, Nguyen said, as a potential location for a pop-up hospital.
But the fairgrounds let Nguyen borrow three ticket booths, Honda Center welcomed him and the booths to its parking lot, and a pop-up wedding chapel was born. The Ducks, even with their arena closed, hustled to put up a photo backdrop with the words “Hitched at Honda Center.”
When Nguyen’s office contacted the 800 couples with canceled wedding appointments, Koopman and Furusawa jumped at the chance to wed at Honda Center. With ceremonies limited to one witness because of social distancing regulations, the couple invited Koopman’s father, a longtime Ducks season-ticket holder.
“The only season he didn’t have tickets was the one they won the Stanley Cup,” Koopman said.
She said the whole ceremony took “eight minutes, I think.” A Ducks staffer noticed the team caps and offered congratulations, the couple extended thanks and mentioned that defenseman Hampus Lindholm was their favorite player, and that was the end.
Until later that afternoon, that is. The Ducks sent an email with a link to a video, and up popped Lindholm.
“Hey, Lynsey and Jayson, I just want to congratulate you on the wedding,” Lindholm said. “I hope you guys enjoy a happy life together, and I hope to see you back at Honda Center soon.”
Said Koopman: “I pushed the play button, and I broke down in tears.”
Tears of joy have not been the only kind shed within the vicinity of Honda Center in these trying times. The pop-up wedding program started last Friday. The next day, Second Harvest Food Bank took over the parking lot, for the fifth consecutive Saturday.
On a weekly basis, its drive-through food distributions have served as many as 6,127 cars and provided as many as 143,000 pounds of food, Second Harvest spokeswoman Barbara Wartman said. The event is scheduled to last through at least May, she said.
Hayley Wickenheiser, the Hockey Hall of Fame player turned medical student, has organized drives to provide equipment for medical personnel.
A sports arena, after all, is a community gathering place, even if pop-up weddings and drive-through food giveaways are not the typical events held there.
“These are the kinds of things that make you grateful you can do them,” said Tim Ryan, who runs the Ducks and Honda Center.
“I appreciate them seeing the need and being so gracious,” Nguyen said. “This is like history.”
With few options for a marriage ceremony, Nguyen said, couples from as far away as Nevada have driven to Orange County for a quickie wedding. Appointments are required, and he said his office got 1,000 calls in 20 minutes on Monday, the first full day the service was available.
As the Kings and Ducks wait out the NHL’s coronavirus shutdown, the teams will renew their rivalry with an EA SPORTS NHL 20 simulated game.
When the good times return, Nguyen said, he might invite all the couples who got hitched at the Honda Center to a reunion there. And then he mused about the possibility of conducting a mass wedding there, or across the street at Angel Stadium.
“I can deputize one of the players to perform the ceremony,” Nguyen said.
Hitched at Honda Center? How about Married by Mike Trout?
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