Tyler Toffoli’s goal for the Los Angeles Kings will have a place in Salt Lake City’s pro hockey history. The best part? The goalposts stayed in their moorings long enough for Toffoli to shoot and score in the first period Monday night.
Not everything went perfectly in the NHL’s appearance at Vivnt Smart Home Arena, but the Kings made the homecoming of Utah natives Trevor Lewis and Daniel Brickley memorable in a 4-1 exhibition win over Vancouver in the Salt Lake Shootout.
Ice problems with a goalpost in each end of the rink caused five lengthy stoppages for repairs in the game’s first 11 minutes, spoiling an otherwise lively start. The delays were enough to make anyone wonder if hockey was meant to be played in this building, nearly 25 years after the late Larry H. Miller sold the Salt Lake Golden Eagles.
Even so, the issues with the ice were more easily fixable than the snow that covered Smith’s Ballpark in March 2016, preventing the Los Angeles Angels from playing an exhibition game against the hometown Bees.
Utah hockey fans responded very well to the NHL’s first show in the Salt Lake Valley in 10 years. Monday’s attendance (12,367) topped the 8,881 who watched the Kings and San Jose Sharks play at the smaller Maverik Center in West Valley City on a Sunday night in October 2008. Ten years before then, an NHL exhibition drew 9,132 on a Saturday.
Brickley described the atmosphere as “electric” and Lewis said, “Oh, it was great. It got pretty loud out there.”
The crowd was entertained Monday, and a high percentage stayed to the end. “The fans were really involved,” said Brickley, who found himself watching the videoboard. “It seemed like they had a lot of fun.”
The contest didn’t look or feel like an exhibition, with front-line players skating regular shifts and both teams playing aggressively.
Vancouver’s Sam Gagner rocketed a shot past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in the second period, then Toffoli’s second goal came when he gloved a puck in the air and then shot it past Jacob Markstrom.
In the third period, the Kings scored two goals 42 seconds apart, with Lewis assisting Dion Phaneuf to make it 4-1.
The Kings are booked for a Vivint visit each of the next two years in what looks like a good partnership for the club, the arena and the Utah Sports Commission.
This was more evidence that Utahns support what they view as big events. The NHL game proved to be an attraction, about 70 years after professional teams started coming to town. Chicago and Brooklyn played a football exhibition at the University of Utah in 1947, and NFL clubs visited intermittently until 1970. Major League Baseball teams also played regularly against each other in Salt Lake City in the 1960s, with the likes of Willie Mays and Ernie Banks appearing at the old Derks Field.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Anze Kopitar and other Kings stars extended that pro sports tradition Monday, and they’ll be back again next September.