(editor's note: Look, another new writer has appeared! Welcome to the blog, Carlos.)
Who says there are no seasons in So Cal? December 21 kicks off Winterfest at Memorial Stadium, home of the Bakersfield Renegades football team. Two weeks of skating, skiing and zip lining will be capped off by an outdoor hockey game between our own Ontario Reign and the Bakersfield Condors, AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. Dubbed the Three-Way Chevrolet Condorstown Outdoor Classic, the Reign will take their show outdoors for the first time since their move west. The Condors, who participated in an outdoor game last season against the Stockton Heat, will host the event.
In an effort to drum up excitement for the AHL's ninth outdoor game, the Condors announced yesterday that there will be an alumni-celebrity game on January 6, a day before the Outdoor Classic. The two captains for these celebrity squads certainly need no introductions around these parts, as Los Angeles Kings legends Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille will lace up their skates in an effort to further grow the game towards the Inland Empire.
The complete rosters for the alumni celebrity game will not be announced until December 21, so it is unclear whether they will be comprised strictly of former Kings and Oilers, in the tradition of the NHL outdoor alumni games, or if they will focus more on the "celebrity" aspect of the event and invite names more notable to hockey on the west coast. Says the Great One:
"The success of the (California) NHL clubs has been very positive, but the (American Hockey League) teams in cities like Bakersfield and Ontario have elevated the sport that much higher and made it even more popular," Gretzky said. "It's great to see a city like Bakersfield with people who are excited about watching hockey and have gravitated to these players that one day will play in the National Hockey League."
Indeed. The arrival of Auston Matthews is living proof of the potential breeding ground non-traditional hockey markets can be if appropriate effort is made to plant the seeds. This event will provide a golden opportunity for fans who were either too young or lived too far away when Gretzky was breaking records in LA to see the Great One in action for themselves. With the reach that Robitaille and Gretzky have within the game, do not be surprised to see more big names sign up for this event.
Tickets are already on sale for the Outdoor Classic, with a ticket granting entrance to both the alumni-celebrity game on January 6 and the Reign-Condors action on January 7. Memorial Stadium seats 19,000, so expect a Staples-like crowd to be on hand. With the Kings hosting the NHL All Star Game later in the month, it is quite a time to be a hockey fan in Southern California.