The hockey was a good enough show, with the Condors beating the Ontario Reign with two dramatic goals in a 3-2 overtime victory.
But what will set Saturday night apart in the annals of Kern County sports history is … well, everything else.
Years from now, when the Condors Outdoor Classic is but a memory and a date in a history book, many will pull out their ticket stubs — there were 12,330 sold — and say they were here at Memorial Stadium for the first outdoor hockey game in Bakersfield’s history.
But If that ticket stub looks like it didn’t get drenched, don’t buy their story (and even then, plenty of people stayed to get drenched and then left and missed the dramatic finish). Plenty of those 12,330 tickets belonged to folks who didn’t want to brave the elements.
There was nowhere to hide from the pouring rain, especially not in the Twilight Zone of a second period.
It was those bizarre 20 minutes — actually, make it 25, because the first period ended early after a snafu with a support beam on the outdoor rink constructed on the field last month — when the most memories were made.
Every time a player hit the puck, it left a trail of water. Soon, every time a player skated, it left a trail of water. One “shot” resulted in nothing but a spray. Instead of gliding along the ice, the puck crawled and splashed in puddles. You wouldn’t have believed some of this stuff if they packed it into a new Mighty Ducks movie.
Forget the Reign. This was about the RAIN. And Mother Nature, as is oft repeated, has never lost when she brings her A game.
“Every time you stopped, one skate poured water into the other, so each one felt like it was 10 pounds,” Condors left wing Scott Allen said. “You had to keep clearing water from your visor. It was unreal.”
I have to admit, there were several times I looked around and waited for a referee or a coach or someone to be the adult in the stadium and stop the game.
But you know what? It was too much fun to stop. And if you were in the stands, getting drenched, that’s the part of the game you’ll remember even more than the Condors’ comeback.
Because honestly, who’s going to remember the final score of this one in 10 years? This was about the experience, both for the players and the fans, and what an experience it was. An outdoor rink, on a 60-year-old stadium’s football field, surrounded by palm trees.
It’s crazy enough that Bakersfield has become a hockey town (and if you don’t believe that, none other than Wayne Gretzky called it so when he was here Friday). But an outdoor hockey town? The men who built Memorial Stadium in the 1950s could have never dreamed it would one day be used for hockey.
That’s a testament to the Condors front office and staff, who have built the franchise into a Kern County mainstay and then had the vision and drive to carry out the Outdoor Classic.
It wasn’t perfect. The headliners, Gretzky and Luc Robitaille, didn’t play during the alumni/celebrity bash Friday because of unannounced injuries. The lines to get into the parking lot were long and onerous. And, of course, there was the weather.
Team officials debated all week whether to delay the game, move it up or postpone it. They eventually decided to keep it as scheduled, with puck drop at 6 p.m. So it poured until about 5:45 and then again at 6:45, right after the first intermission.
That’s when all the craziness began.
The Condors like to say that “Nobody has more fun.” And if you’ve got a drenched ticket stub and a tall tale to tell about outdoor hockey in rainy Bakersfield, you can prove them right.