The Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights will play in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors on Saturday, February 20 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN1, TVAS). The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers will compete in the Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday, February 21 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN1, TVAS).
[RELATED: NHL to hold two outdoor games in Lake Tahoe]
The rink will be on the 18th fairway of the golf course at Edgewood Tahoe Resort near the California-Nevada border in Stateline, Nevada, the site of the US Championship of the Century since 1990 and host of the 1985 US Senior Open and 1980 US Amateur Public Links.
“We’re always talking about pond hockey,” said NHL content director Steve Mayer. “This has always been the reason we play our games outdoors, and [this idea] has always been something on the shelf. ”
The history of modern NHL outdoor games can be traced back to “Mystery, Alaska,” the 1999 film starring Russell Crowe in which the New York Rangers play away against an amateur team in an Alaskan town. .
The film inspired the state of Michigan to host Michigan outdoors at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. On October 6, 2001. The game drew a crowd of 74,544, then the hockey world record.
This inspired the NHL, which has hosted 30 outdoor games since 2003, attracting over 1.6 million fans to baseball and football stadiums across North America, including several iconic venues such as Fenway. Park, Notre Dame Stadium and Wrigley Field.
“Since we started hosting outdoor games in 2003 and made them a regular feature of our annual program in 2008, we have envisioned a myriad of stadium-less settings, but they have always been made impractical due to from the large number of requests from our fans. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the equation.
The 2019-2020 season ended on March 12. As the NHL and the NHL Players Association formulated the plan to return to the game, a 24-team fanless tournament in the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto from August 1 to September 1. On January 28, the NHL resurrected the idea of the no-stadium because it looked like it might not have full stadiums for its 2021 events.
“The matches in the stadiums work so brilliantly thanks to the experience,” said Mayer. “Playing them in empty stadiums just wouldn’t make sense. So (NHL Senior Executive Vice President) Keith Wachtel was the one who said, ‘I think our sponsors would really support the concept because they still support our platforms, especially something as unique as this. Why not explore it? I said to myself, “Yes. Let’s do it. “”
The NHL had to postpone the 2021 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues, scheduled for Target Field in Minneapolis on January 1, and the 2021 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL stadium series with the Hurricanes of Carolina, scheduled for Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, NC on February 20.
“He was lining up, like,” Hmmm. If we’re ever going to do it, this is the year, ”Mayer said.
The questions became where, when and how, with safety in the midst of the pandemic a priority.
Mayer said the setting had to be “majestic,” with a lake and mountains.
“You close your eyes, and that’s what you keep seeing,” Mayer said. “And so, could we find an area that would lend itself to this vision? I think we had all seen the movie “Mystery, Alaska”. … We kind of had this imagery of this spectacular outdoors and embracing the environment and the wilderness, just a bunch of guys playing for the love of the game, you know? ”
The NHL considered Lake Louise, Alta .; Grand Lake, Colorado; Park City, Utah; and Stanley, Idaho. He considered January 1. But Lake Tahoe ticked all the boxes, and with the regular season starting Jan. 13, the best dates have become Feb. 20-21.
Edgewood Tahoe Resort will become its own bubble. Only accredited persons will be allowed to pass through the doors. Everyone will be tested and will adhere to strict protocols. Teams and staff will not be allowed to leave the premises during their stay.
“It’s a very protected environment,” Mayer said.
The lake will not be frozen. The NHL wouldn’t be able to play on the lake even if it was because of safety and competitive standards. But by building a regulation ice rink on the 18th fairway on the shore in the middle of the landscape, it will get as close as possible.
“Yeah, we’re going to be on a golf course, but you won’t be able to tell how scenic everything will be,” Mayer said. “There will be no sign of it. ”
The NHL will build everything needed for an NHL game, but by design nothing else. This will create changing rooms that look like wooden cabins; players will shower at the hotel. The dashboard will be retro.
“The idea is for the teams to go to the ice and be isolated,” Mayer said. “There will be infrastructure around him, but we are not building a stadium. There will be no areas where fans can sit and watch. We will really protect the area from people.
“And we’ll let them play. ”