Outdoor success is more than money

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LOS ANGELES -- There are a thousand things that go into an outdoor event like the NHL's hotly anticipated all-California bash at Dodger Stadium Saturday night.

In this case, there are celebrities, a sand volleyball court and the rock band Kiss.

But at the very bedrock of this sold out game or frankly any of the NHL's successful outdoor efforts is the players.

That might seem self-evident -- no players, no play -- but bear with us.

It's not just that they show up to these events and play the game they're paid to play. It's that they embrace the events, revel in them in fact.

During the NHL Players' Association annual tours of NHL clubs the one question that is always asked: When do we get to play outdoors?

When will it be our turn?

And the fact is none of this works without the players' desire to participate. If this was a chore, if it was a burden to take part in these events, if the players and coaches believed them to be insincere or cheesy or gimmicky, then it would be apparent and it would be revealed as a completely different animal and all it would have little meaning.

But that's not how it is with these events, which have become one of the league's signature success stories over the past six years.

Don't believe us?

Find some shots or video of the wives and girlfriends and friends and parents who spilled onto the Dodger Stadium ice late Friday after the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks finished their respective practices. There were toddlers and pre-teens and folks who hadn't been on skates for years who wouldn't have missed this for the world.

As Justin Williams made his way back into the Kings' locker room, which is where the Dodgers prepare for their games 81 times every summer in Chavez Ravine, he was followed by his son Jackson sporting a miniature "Williams" jersey and clutching a pint-sized hockey stick.

Somewhere nearby the rest of his family was recuperating from their turn on the ice.

"I think it's been about 20 years since my mom had her skates on," Williams said.

"Family time is usually reserved for holidays and things like that but this is certainly a special occasion. We're all taking advantage of it."

Never far from sight is the fact that Saturday's game has great import for both teams as the Ducks try to continue a spectacular first half that has seen them assemble the NHL's top record, while the Kings try to arrest a mid-season slide.

To be sure, part of the allure of these events is that there is meaning to the outcome. It's not a charade or a demonstration event. It's real.

But a day like Friday with the families' happy voices rising beyond the outfield fences suggests there is time to embrace the moment without losing sight of the importance of the two points.

"There's 82 games in a regular season and this one is obviously just as important with two points on the line, but there's an extra added element that's there. It's kind of an intangible thing that you just want to be a part of. You want to play hard and you want to put on a show for Southern California and the bunch of people that'll be watching," Williams said.

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