AIR FORCE ACADEMY | Tyler Toffoli will remember the Los Angeles Kings’ 3-1 win over Colorado on Saturday night at the Air Force Academy for so many reasons.
The thundering jets’ flyover. The cadets high-fiving players as they came off the ice. The long clouds of breath, the short shifts.
Oh, and his three goals, the NHL’s first outdoor hat trick.
He didn’t even keep his stick for posterity.
He gave it to one of the cadets cheering him on.
“It was really cool. I think this whole experience has been pretty incredible. They did a great job,” Toffoli said. “The things that they do for the United States, all over the world, is pretty impressive. So, it wasn’t a very hard decision.”
Toffoli put Los Angeles ahead 2-1 with 54 seconds remaining when he scored off a face-off, and then he added an empty-netter with 4.3 seconds left in the third and final outdoor game in the NHL this season.
Teammates Anze Kopitar and Alex Iafallo encouraged Toffoli to get open after the Avalanche pulled their goaltender following Tofolli’s tie-breaking goal.
“I think that’s the most nervous I’ve ever been putting the puck in an empty net in my life,” Tofolli said. “But it worked.”
Aside from Tofolli’s hat trick, Kopitar said he took in many memorable moments in the NHL’s second service academy game.
“We didn’t have the flyover in the first two (outdoor games) we played in in LA and San Jose, so I was looking forward to that,” Kopitar said. “Just the atmosphere around here. The setup was great. And getting the win at the end of the day, it certainly helps with the experience.
“I guess the two Cali games weren’t as cold as this one, so that’s going to stick with me for a little bit,” Kopitar said.
Toffoli said in the third period “we were all kind of looking at each other as we were lining up and we’re like, ‘Did the temperature go down that much?'”
By then, it was a frosty 26 degrees but felt like 17 with the wind chill and high humidity.
The Kings won their second straight, improving to 4-12-1 since New Year’s Day.
At 6,621 feet above sea level, this was the highest altitude ever for an NHL game. Unlike during the week when the rink was installed, the snow stayed away. It was 32 degrees with 66% humidity at puck drop with 6 mph winds. The temperature quickly dipped into the 20s.
“I think having this outdoor game adds a little bit of adrenaline to the fact, so once you get out on the ice, you kind of forget about the altitude,” Kopitar said. “Until you get stuck out there for a long shift. But I think we managed it pretty well throughout the game. I don’t think anybody was too winded.”
At least not after the first 10 minutes.
Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick survived Colorado’s 15-shot flurry in the first period, when the Kings took a 1-0 lead at Falcon Stadium, where an F-16 fighter jet highlighted the north end of the field and cadets sat on the south side of the rink on either side of a runway complete with synchronized red lights.
The Stadium Series game was a sellout — 43,574 fans, more than twice the capacity of the Pepsi Center some 60 miles north of the Air Force Academy.
Colorado goaltender Philipp Grubaurer stopped 14 of 15 shots before leaving with a lower body injury after teammate Ian Cole slammed into him early in the third period and sent him tumbling. He was replaced by backup Pavel Francouz with 17 1/2 minutes remaining.
“It sucks. I don’t know, hopefully he’s not out too long,” Colorado’s Nathan McKinnon said. “I haven’t talked to him yet. Just a frustrating, frustrating game.”
The Avalanche outshot the Kings 33-23 and two power plays early on were wiped off within seconds by Colorado penalties.
“It would have been nice to see the Kings play from behind,” McKinnon said. “They were pretty passive after they got the lead. We blew a point, at least. I like our chances in overtime. If we’re a little more ready to bury those early, I had a couple of good looks myself I wish I would have scored on. A couple of rebound looks. It’s just unfortunate.”
Despite the disappointments, McKinnon said he appreciated the atmosphere.
“The coolest part was seeing the cadets and all the people who serve,” McKinnon said. “They had so much energy when we were coming in and out of the dressing room. That was really cool; it definitely stuck out for me.”
Tofolli’s first goal came in the first period when Iafallo tipped Joakim Ryan’s shot, which went off the left post and slid across the crease where Toffoli tapped it.
Country singer Sam Hunt serenaded the crowd from a stage near the fighter jet after the first period.
Quick stopped the first two dozen shots he faced but he lost his stick in the final minute of the second period after two quick stops and while he was reaching for it, Samuel Girard sent the puck sailing over his right shoulder to tie it at 1.
NOTES: The NHL announced that the Carolina Hurricanes will host an outdoor game on Feb. 20, 2021, at Carter-Finley Stadium on the campus of N.C. State in Raleigh. … This was the Avs’ second outdoor game and the Kings’ third. Los Angeles split its first two outdoor games, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles (3-0 loss to Anaheim) in 2014 and at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, in 2015 (2-1 win over San Jose). Colorado lost to the Detroit Red Wings at Coors Field in downtown Denver on Feb. 27, 2016. … This was the league’s 30th outdoor game. The other two this season were the Heritage Classic in Regina, Saskatchewan, on Oct. 26 (Jets 2, Flames 1) and the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas (Stars 4, Predators 2). … This is the second outdoor game played at a service academy. Washington beat Toronto 5-2 at the Navy-Marine Crops Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, on March 13, 2018. … The Kings have just one more road game this month, at Winnipeg on Tuesday night.