Sports

Raley Field iced up for outdoor hockey Friday

The Bakersfield Condors hockey team practices on an ice rink built at Raley Field in advance of Friday’s outdoor match against the Stockon Heat. This is the first AHL and NHL game to ever feature an outdoor game with the ice rink positioned at home base of a baseball diamond.
The Bakersfield Condors hockey team practices on an ice rink built at Raley Field in advance of Friday’s outdoor match against the Stockon Heat. This is the first AHL and NHL game to ever feature an outdoor game with the ice rink positioned at home base of a baseball diamond. aseng@sacbee.com

Raley Field has hosted baseball, softball, football, futbal, concerts, races and even burger showdowns.

Today , professional hockey can be added to the venue’s list.

“I can’t wait to see it. It’s pro hockey at a pretty high level outdoors at Raley Field,” said Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission.

The game between the Stockton Heat and Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League is set to start at 7:30 p.m. . The hockey slate is one element of a six-week run for the regulation-sized rink – and related amenities – that has taken over the infield grounds at Raley Field. Tickets to Friday night’s game range from $20 to $150.

With rain in the forecast Friday afternoon, field officials say they’re prepared to push the game to Saturday if the downpour is too heavy. Robert Barsanti, a spokesman for the field and the Triple A River Cats baseball team, said hockey officials will make the call closer to the scheduled start time.

While playing hockey outdoors may be common for children growing up in Canada and quasi-Canadian northern states, it wasn’t until recent years that leagues began staging big-time hockey outdoors.

Friday’s match is believed to be only the third professional hockey match played outdoors in California and the first for the American Hockey League. The AHL is the top minor-league grooming of players for the National Hockey League, the world’s top league .

The event is a collaboration between Raley Field, Entercom Communications and RS Ice Sports.

Mark Francis, a vice president of RS Ice Sports, said he’s excited to share the game he grew up playing – he’s Canadian – with Sacramento residents.

“We’re all hockey people and want to see the game grow,” said Francis, who now lives in Los Angeles. He called Sacramento a top untapped hockey market.

The game will be a special treat for Stockton Heat season ticket holders (they get free tickets) but also will bring in thousands of new potential fans to the game, Francis said.

“We want to expose the game to a large market,” Francis said.

As the game exposes people to hockey, it will also expose people to Sacramento. The game will be broadcast internationally on the NHL Network.

Sophia, of the sports commission, said it’s good exposure for the region. He said he doesn’t know if it will lead to regular hockey play in Sacramento, but called it a “cool” event (no pun intended).

Part of the problem with growing the sport in America is the lack of suitable skating surfaces, Francis said. In Canada, local municipalities build skating rinks in addition to other outdoor ballparks, he said.

Barsanti said that while the field has been used for soccer and American football during other baseball offseasons, this year the owners wanted to create a winter mecca.

The “Biggest Show on Snow” outdoor skating rink and ice slide opened Nov. 20, but quickly had to close after one of the three rented chillers failed. It reopened Nov. 28.

Barsanti said the undulating 8-lane ice slide is one of the most popular elements of the event. The rink’s run ends Jan. 3.

“We really wanted to do something to keep Raley Field and the River Cats in people’s minds,” said Barsanti.

Covering the grass with ice for six weeks is not without impact. The sod field will have to be replaced come spring, Barsanti said.

As to whether the rink will be back next year, Barsanti said it’s too early to say.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

For tickets visit Ticketmaster or the Raley Field box office.

For more info on skating time visit Raley Field website.

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