Wayne Gretzky remembered the bugs perhaps most of all.
So did Luc Robitaille, although he recalled specifically they were grasshoppers that invaded the rink late in the third period of what everyone agreed was the first NHL game to be played outdoors.
The Kings faced off outdoors against the New York Rangers in an exhibition game Sept. 27, 1991, on a rink built in the Caesars Palace parking lot in Las Vegas. Kings owner Bruce McNall got the NHL to sign off on the idea. The rink cost $135,000 to build and the game came off without a hitch.
Or did it? Memories are clouded by time.
Gretzky recalled there were no issues with the ice, but there he was standing by one of the blue lines moments before the opening faceoff, instructing a worker where to repair the ice. The lines weren't painted below the ice, as is customary, but were made of fabric and buried below the ice.
When the fabric began to poke through, well, it was time for a guy wielding what sure looked like a fire extinguisher to hit the spots that were sneaking through. Gretzky kept a sharp eye on the man's work, which is exactly what you would expect from “The Great One.”
“The ice was perfect,” Gretzky said last week at an event to promote the Kings' second outdoor adventure, a regular-season game Saturday against the Ducks at Dodger Stadium. “New York and L.A. It was a wonderful event. There were no issues.
“The only issue was the last four minutes the black flies were diving into the ice thinking it was water. You had to be careful because you could skate on a fly and get hurt. ... As long as it was slippery, it was fine with me, though. I was OK.”
“Let me tell you something, it wasn't worse than at the Forum,” Robitaille said. “For us, in those days, because of Wayne, we used to do a tour (during the exhibition season). We played in the baseball stadium in St. Petersburg. We played in Miami. We played in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix.
“All those arenas never had ice. We were used to bad ice. By the time we got to Vegas, we were, like, 'This is great.' ... Because it was so white on the ice, the bugs would literally go on the ice and two jumps and they would freeze.”
When Robitaille, who was a Kings left wing in 1991 and now serves as the team's president of business operations, began thinking about pitching an outdoor game in Los Angeles to the NHL, he flashed back to that game in Las Vegas more than 20 years ago.
“It worked,” Robitaille said. “It was a lot warmer there than it is here. When we asked (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman and (NHL chief operating officer) John Collins, we said, 'Hey, it worked in Las Vegas, I'm sure it can work here.' That was part of our pitch.”
Temperature at the opening faceoff for the Las Vegas game was 85 degrees with humidity of 28 percent and a 7-mph wind, according to the Prime Ticket telecast. Bob Miller and Jim Fox called the game, looking a good deal younger, but so did we all in those days.
One of Caesars Palace's warriors rode atop the Zamboni, wielding a sword and prompting Miller to tell his audience, “Every time I see that guy, I expect to hear the USC fight song.” So what if Miller mixed up his Romans and Greeks? The essence of the joke was very funny.
“These are not your ideal NHL conditions, but it's the novelty of it,” Miller added later.
Goaltender Kelly Hrudey wore a small camera fastened to his helmet, which gave viewers an excellent view of Rangers rookie Tony Amonte cutting unmarked into the slot to receive a centering pass from former Kings standout Bernie Nicholls to score the first goal.
After falling behind 2-0, the Kings rallied to score five unanswered goals on New York goalie John Vanbiesbrouck and recorded a 5-2 victory. A sellout crowd of 13,007 was treated to Vanbiesbrouck stopping Gretzky on a breakaway and Gretzky beating “The Beezer” later in the game.
“It was a cool experience,” Vanbiesbrouck said in an MSG Network special on the game.
Vanbiesbrouck then recalled something Robitaille also remembered.
There were no dressing rooms.
“I remember undressing about halfway and then walking back to the hotel after the game,” Vanbiesbrouck said during the feature, which was hosted by longtime Rangers TV host Al Trautwig. “Then I undressed and showered in my room.”
Said Robitaille: “I vaguely remember there was some kind of room, we had a seat, but it was some kind of ballroom or a hotel room.”
Two nights later, the Kings traveled to Charlotte, N.C., to play another exhibition in preparation for the 1991-92 regular season. It was supposed to be just another barnstorming game in another city in another arena, with air conditioning and an ice plant and everything you would expect to find indoors.
It was canceled because of poor ice conditions.