The National Hockey League has been playing outdoor regular-season games since 2003 but on Saturday will get as close as it ever has to its outdoor pond hockey roots with a pair of games in Lake Tahoe.
Just steps away from the lake on the 18th fairway of the Edgewood Tahoe Resort golf course, the NHL has constructed a rink where the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights will play under the gaze of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains but with no fans due to COVID-19 protocols. The appeal of the outdoor game is anchored by romantic nostalgia and wintry charm ripped straight from a Canadian Christmas card.
There have been 30 outdoor regular-season games played and all have traded on that wintry imagery even if the scenes were manufactured, with rinks plunked in the middle of football and baseball stadiums. Games have been held in iconic ball parks such as Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park. They have been played in the biting cold of Edmonton and warmth of Los Angeles.
Nostalgia and the pull to be part of something unique has attracted huge crowds, including an NHL record of 105,000 at Michigan Stadium in 2014, to sit outside in a raging blizzard. The Lake Tahoe games, which will also have the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers playing on Sunday, will offer up something far more intimate.
Those watching on television might find that the scenes transport them back to a time of backyard rinks and the frozen ponds of their youth. “They (outdoor games) all are unique and I think there are special take aways from every single game we have produced,” said NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer. “This is just going to be really unique and different and it is such a shame we can’t have fans here.
“It is turning out to be one of those ones that you look at and you think that years and years from now people are going to still be talking about it. “We do feel we are putting something together that will be very memorable.”
While the scene being projected is a throwback, the reality is that the games are being played in a high-tech encampment with all the modern infrastructure needed to deliver an NHL quality game that will count for two points in the standings. Cameras will show breathtaking vistas but behind the scenes will be a vast logistics village of generators, ice-making equipment, television studios and satellite trucks.
“When you come here this surrounding speaks for itself, that’s the set design,” said Mayer. “We are really taking advantage of this incredible surrounding (in) the wilderness. “But what makes this really difficult is, you know the wall with the plug and you put the plug in and you suddenly got electricity? That’s not here.”
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