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  • Jett

Despite Delay, NHL Outdoor Weekend Was One to Remember

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

With no fans in a majority of sports venues, and limited numbers in others, as well as the late start to the season, the NHL was unable to host its annual Winter Classic on New Year’s Day or any Stadium Series games. One of the brightest moments of each season, the Winter Classic brings the game back to its roots on an outdoor rink. Host cities often use local football or baseball stadiums to have massive crowds for the game, which is more of an event when you factor in all of the design and pageantry that comes with it.

Without these major, nationally televised, events on the schedule this season, the NHL made a brilliant shift in strategy to bring the NHL Outdoors to life. The setting was the 18th fairway of the Edgewood golf course in Lake Tahoe. The rink was located steps from the lake with mountain views in every direction; the scenery represented outdoor hockey at its finest, especially after it snowed prior to the event, leaving a winter wonderland in the areas surrounding the game sheet.

Two games were scheduled for the weekend; the Vegas Golden Knights played the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday and the Philadelphia Flyers faced off with the Boston Bruins on Sunday. Both games were originally set to be played during the day, but the weather had other plans. The cloudless skies on Saturday allowed the sun’s glare to wreak havoc on the ice, leading to a stoppage in play after the first period between Vegas and Colorado. After realizing the ice wouldn’t be able to be fixed until the evening, after sunset, the NHL delayed remainder of the game for nearly nine hours to ensure the players would have a safe surface to play on. Subsequently, the Sunday matchup was pushed back to later in the day, to avoid running into the same problem with another day of sunshine in the forecast.

Although the move was unexpected, I would argue it worked out for the best. The late-night Saturday finish to the Golden Knights-Avalanche game, with only the rink and the pine trees in the view of the lights, had a feeling of pond hockey, like many kids play growing up. The imagery was reminiscent of a setting where kids would lace up the skates and take the ice after school, homework, and dinner.

Despite the lake and the mountains not being visible so late, the game still brought the intended feel. The game itself didn’t disappoint either. Colorado, on the improved ice, was able to show its speed and skill throughout the night as they won 3-2 in a game that the Avalanche seemed to play better than that score indicates.

After being blown away by the greatness of the Saturday audible, Sunday’s scene took it to another level. Again, the game had been pushed back to a late-afternoon local time start to avoid the sun in the high sky. That left the game to be played with the sun setting over the lake and behind the mountains in the background, creating some breathtaking views.

The game itself was no comparison to the Sunday evening setting on the Lake. After the Flyers and Bruins played the first period to a 2-2 tie, Boston established itself in the second, scoring four unanswered before winning by a final score of 7-3. The Flyers came into the game undermanned as players remained sidelined after the team’s recent COVID-19 pause. The Bruins didn’t have their entire roster healthy, but they had their top players while the Flyers didn’t, and it showed. David Pastrnak stole the show, scoring a hat trick and leading his team to the win.

Despite the weekend getting off to a shaky start due to the weather conditions, it would be hard to view the events as anything but a massive success. The roots of outdoor hockey were able to be highlighted in front of the amazing backdrop of Lake Tahoe.

Although the idea of this weekend came about due to the absence of normal outdoor NHL games, the league may have found something to continue moving forward. The Winter Classic and Stadium Series are great events, and should continue, but finding a way to make this Outdoor Weekend a yearly event should be on the NHL’s to do list. Finding locations like they did in Lake Tahoe to highlight the game itself and the setting should continue. While not all markets offer this possibility, simply because of geography, I hope to see more events like those of this past weekend, with less focus on the fans on site, and more focus on the greatness of hockey in its purest form, on an outdoor rink, moving forward.

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