NHL Lake Tahoe game attracts hockey fans in boats (and more) to catch a free glimpse

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. — The NHL didn’t allow fans in Lake Tahoe to attend their two outdoor hockey games this weekend. But that didn’t stop fans on Lake Tahoe from watching.

A fleet of kayaks and boats gathered on Saturday to watch the Colorado Avalanche play the Vegas Golden Knights at Edgewood Tahoe Resort, on whose lakeside golf course the rink was constructed. On Sunday, the number of seacraft tripled in size: There were a dozen boats, flying flags for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins, as well as 22 kayaks and two paddle boats that lingered near the shore. The fire department had a boat out there too, sending jets of water into the air during the national anthem.

“Interesting touch. I’ve never been here, so I didn’t know what to expect. I thought maybe the lake might be frozen,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy of the aquatic spectators. “Good for them. They’re in the spirit of it. That’s what you want — people getting into a new experience.”

The game drew an eclectic collection of seafaring fans. There were several kayakers who wore gear and carried flags in honor of the Golden Knights, the game’s closest geographic participant. Chris Stoner wore a Detroit Red Wings jersey with his name on it and flew both a team and an American flag from his jet ski, becoming a brief social media sensation. One fan in a kayak held a sign that read, “will polar plunge for jersey,” pointing to the chilly lake temperature.

“When they said they’re doing this and it was at the 18th hole, I knew we would be able to see something,” said Stoner, sitting sidesaddle on his jet ski about 25 yards away from the action.

A few small boats floated near the shoreline, while a large charter boat with a party deck — the Safari Rose out of Lake Tahoe — had a few dozen fans watching the action from afar.

“We saw the yacht out on the lake and saw some people cheering. They were Vegas fans, too. It’ll be something that we never forget,” said Golden Knights Forward Alex Tuch.

Shelly McCarty, operations manager for the Safari Rose, lamented having rented out the boat on Sunday before any Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers fans could reserve it for the game. “I’ve gotten tons of calls today about it,” she said. “I’m not a hockey fan, so I didn’t even know about all of this until this woman called me to charter the boat for Saturday.”

Watching action on the golf course from the water is a fan tradition on Lake Tahoe. The annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament at Edgewood brings out the spectators in their watercrafts, and fans are allowed to land on the small patch of sand separating the lake from the greens. Stoner said the NHL wouldn’t allow fans to watch from the sand because of COVID-19 protocols.

“It would have been really cool if they let us go on the beach for celebrity golf. They let us bring out jet skis on the beach and party up there,” he said.

How was the view from the water?

“We can see from about the waist up. We can see all the players’ numbers. It’s actually not bad, you’ve got pretty good sight lines here,” said Stoner.

The lake wasn’t the only place where fans were trying to catch a glimpse of the action on Saturday. About a dozen fans were crowded by the fence near the security checkpoint, within eyeshot of the rink.

Chris Meyer and Rebecca Meyer are stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. They drove three hours and snagged a room at the Edgewood to catch a glimpse of the Avalanche in the outdoor game.

“He came prepared,” said Rebecca Meyer, pointing to Chris’ binoculars. “It’s a little hard, but we can just make the players out.”

This vantage point was short-lived, however, as all the fence-watchers were chased away by resort security with about 10 minutes remaining in the first period.

The NHL was also policing the woods located near the golf course. While armed police officers were stationed at the walkways near the rink, the resort’s events security team was stationed in the trees near the rink on the lookout for fans sneaking a peek.

Saturday’s viewing party for fans on the water was truncated. The NHL suspended play between Vegas and Colorado after one period because of deteriorating ice conditions under the midday sun. After about an hour with the players in their dressing rooms, the boats began to dissipate.

When the game was restarted at 9 p.m. local time, there were two boats still out in the darkness taking in the game.

On Sunday, boats starting arriving around 3:30 p.m. for the game that was scheduled to begin an hour later. Some had with decks crowded with fans. When the Bruins’ David Pastrnak scored the game’s first goal, one of the boats sounded its air horn in celebration.

“To see boats out there [with fans] is awesome. You’ve got a little bit of everything,” said Cassidy. “Guys in their kayaks reminds of San Francisco, where they try to catch the home run balls. I don’t know if any pucks made it out there or not.”

One of the Bruins fans on the water was Lucas Markham, who grew up in New Hampshire but has lived in Lake Tahoe for 23 years. He knew he’d take his canoe out to watch Sunday’s game as soon as Boston was announced as a participant.

“I live in Tahoe. How many hockey games are we going to get to see?” he said. “There are a lot of East Coasters that moved to Tahoe. We stick to our roots.”

Markham, who was wearing a Bruins onesie, said he would have a better vantage point than many of the fans on the lake because he was coming prepared — with ladders for himself and his friend.

“They won’t let you on the shore, but they have no jurisdiction over the water. So the ladders will be in the water,” he said, laughing. “We call that ‘wicked smaht.'”

Markham said he’d make his presence known at the game, and he followed through on that vow. After the first period ended on Sunday, Markham stood atop his ladder as “The Stripper” by David Rose played from a speaker near his boat. He shed his Bruins onesie to the delight — or horror — of the fans floating around him, before leaping into the shallow, icy water as the sun set on Lake Tahoe.

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