On Wednesday, the National Hockey League announced that outdoor hockey will be returning to California for the second time in as many seasons. This time, however, it will be the San Jose Sharks who will be hosting, and it will be against their nemeses - Achilles' heel, if you will - from Southern California, the Los Angeles Kings.
Fans of both teams should mark February 21, 2015 on their respective calendars as that is when the Kings and Sharks will square off at Levi's Stadium in nearby Santa Clara, the brand new home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.
Since the start of the 2010-11 season, no two teams have faced off against each other more times than the Kings and Sharks. Including the playoffs, these teams have played each other a total of 41 times - and that especially includes two hard-fought seven-game series in each of the last two springs. In fact, with the Kings completing the near-impossible 0-3 series comeback this past April, you can bet that hostility will be running a lot more high in Silicon Valley come February.
But while this is great news for the Kings, Sharks and the general state of hockey in California, hockey purists will most likely frown on this matchup, especially considering this is the second-straight year where Los Angeles is involved. It is unprecedented to see a team play an outdoor in consecutive years but given that they have now won two Stanley Cups in the past three years, I believe it's only fair for the Kings are received this amount of critical attention from around the league, even if those on the east coast don't feel like tuning in.
With the NHL expanding on its outdoor games, it would be fair to given other US markets who haven't before a chance to host a game under the great big sky. The Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues all come to mind. But while I do agree that said markets deserve to have an outdoor game, none share any heated rivalries that the Kings do with the Sharks. On the surface, I would say that the Blues could host the Chicago Blackhawks but given that they are already slated to play in the 2015 Winter Classic, we can safely kibosh that idea. But with all due respect to the Wild and Avalanche - as promising and exciting as both teams are - neither has garnered the same amount of excitement that the Los Angeles Kings have lo these last few years.
The NHL certainly has had plenty of great matchups for most of their outdoor games. Detroit and Chicago's game in 2009 showcased a timeless rivalry between two of the sport's oldest teams and Pittsburgh vs. Washington's battle in 2011 was where fans saw the game's two best players square off, but the Kings and Sharks go beyond that. This isn't about history in the long-term but in the short-term, and let's be honest, it's much better talking about hard feelings between two sides in 2014 than in 1984.
To the hockey purists that don't like this matchup, I say too bad. As a lifelong hockey fan, I would love to see an outdoor game played in a more wintry climate involving teams who haven't participated in the spectacle before. But the NHL has plenty of time for that. Right now, it's about the hatred (assuming that's a fair term) between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks - and every fan in North America, whether in Los Angeles, San Jose or St. John's, Newfoundland, needs to see these teams, for all intents and purposes, duke it out.
In addition to the intense rivalry the Kings and Sharks share, they will be playing at a brand-new state-of-the-art facility in nearby Santa Clara, the aforementioned Levi's Stadium. While Dodger Stadium was a great setting for last year's all-California outdoor game, it isn't quite as beautiful as Levi's will be. My apologies to all Dodgers fans for that last statement.
At a seating capacity of 68,500 (according to www.ballparks.com), Levi's Stadium holds 12,500 more than Dodger Stadium, so while the matchup between the two teams won't be as geographically close as the Kings' matchup with the Anaheim Ducks in January, it will be nonetheless exhilarating for fans from both sides - and it might even getting a bit ugly. Let's hope not, though.
The decision is set to have the Kings and Sharks battle it out, and whatever those outside of California say, this matchup will be epic.