A big announcement came from the Stockton Heat today, as they announced that they would take on the Bakersfield Condors on December 18th at Raley Field in Sacramento. The game will be the first outdoor minor league hockey game played in the state of California.
The game is in conjunction with the Golden State Hockey Rush, which will go from November 20th until January 3rd, will showcase hockey in the California area. There will be youth hockey tournaments put on with the California Amateur Hockey Association, as well as sledge hockey games and an interactive hockey area. Public skating will be available, as will an oversized hill for sledding.
Heat President Dave Piecuch said that this event will validate how much hockey has grown in California. “With eight professional hockey teams calling California home and a growing population of youth hockey players developing across local rinks, we felt that this was a great opportunity to help showcase to the hockey community that the sport is alive and well not only in Stockton but all across the state.”
The game will be the eighth outdoor game that the AHL has held, the last being in December of 2013 when the Grand Rapids Griffins beat the Toronto Marlies at Comerica Park in Detroit. That game was also the furthest west that any minor hockey league has held an outdoor game.
With the Heat going outdoors, it will mark the third time that a Calgary Sports and Entertainment own team will play hockey outdoors. The Flames and WHL’s Calgary Hitmen hosted outdoor games in February of 2011. Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke is excited about the game and has been impressed by the Stockton faithful: “The fan response to the new team and league exceeded our expectations this off-season. With the unique stage of an outdoor game and a big-time rival as an opponent, we need our loyal fan base to provide the team with a tremendous atmosphere at Raley Field.”
Raley Field opened in 2000 and is home to the Sacramento River Cats, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. It has 10,620 fixed seats around the ballpark, but will most likely add risers on the field for an event of this scale. The placement for the event is an interesting one as Raley Field is 47 miles away from Stockton. Even though Stockton does have a team and a stadium next door to the Stockton arena, Raley Field does hold twice as many patrons as Banner Island Ballpark does, which is home to the Stockton Ports.
With this scheduling, it shows that there will be at least one outdoor game this season in the AHL, with the possibility of more games that will coincide with the Winter Classic and Stadium series games in the NHL.