The NHL will be in action outside, without any supporters, on the shores of a lake overlooked by mountains and trees. An extraordinary way of going back to basics that had been considered for a long time.
The League announced a brand new event on Monday: the NHL outside in Lake Tahoe, where two regular season games will be presented along the south shore of America’s largest alpine lake with the mountains in the background. of Sierra Range.
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The Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights will face off in the « The NHL Out at Lake Tahoe Bridgestone » event on Saturday, February 20 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS). The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers will cross swords in the same location on Sunday, February 21 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS).
The rink will be located on the 18th hole fairway of the Edgewood Tahoe Resort golf course, the annual site of the American Century Championship since 1991.
“We’re always talking about outdoor hockey,” said NHL content director Steve Mayer. This has always been the main reason we present away matches, and [cette idée] has always been something we had in mind.
The history of modern NHL outdoor games can be traced back to « Mystery Alaska, » a 1999 film starring Russell Crowe in which the New York Rangers play away against an amateur team in an Alaskan town.
The film inspired Michigan State to host an outdoor game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. On October 6, 2001. The game drew 74,544 spectators, a record-breaking hockey game at the time. .
This event then inspired the NHL, which has hosted 30 outdoor games since 2003, drawing more than 1.6 million fans to baseball and football stadiums across North America.
“Since we started presenting away games and these became a ritual in our calendar in 2008, we have considered several facilities where there is no stadium, but it was impossible to moving forward because of too much demand from our fans, too many of them wanting to attend, ”said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed that.
The 2019-20 season was put on hiatus on March 12. As the NHL and the Players’ Association laid out a return-to-play plan involving a 24-team bubble tournament in Toronto and Edmonton, the NHL revived the idea of a game played in a stadium-less location. , since it would probably be impossible to fill the stands for its events in 2021.
“The games in the stadiums work wonderfully because of the experience,” said Mayer. Presenting them in empty stadiums would not make sense. It was then that (NHL Executive Vice President) Keith Wachtel said, “I think our sponsors would be very open to working with us on this concept, especially for something so unique. we don’t have the idea? » I said « Yes, let’s do it ». «
The NHL had no choice but to postpone the 2021 Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues to be held at Target Field in Minneapolis on January 1 and the Navy Federal Credit Stadium Series. Union starring the Carolina Hurricanes at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, NC, scheduled to take place on February 20.
“We said to ourselves that if we were to hold an event like this, it had to be this year,” said Mayer.
The questions were then to know where, when and how, considering that security remains the priority in times of pandemic.
Mayer said the facilities had to be « majestic », with a lake and mountains.
“I close my eyes and that’s what I see all the time,” he said. So, could we find a place that would reflect this vision? I think we’ve all seen the movie ‘Mystery Alaska’. […] We had in mind the image of this spectacular outdoor landscape where you can enjoy the environment in its wild state, as a few guys are playing for the love of hockey, you know? «
The NHL also considered Lake Louise, Alta., Grand Lake, Colorado, Park City, Utah, and Stanley, Idaho. But Lake Tahoe met all the criteria, and since the regular season wouldn’t start until January 13, the ideal dates became February 20 and 21.
The Edgewood Tahoe Resort will become a bubble. Only authorized persons will be able to pass through the doors. Everyone will be tested and strict protocols will be in place. Teams and their staff members cannot leave the premises during their stay.
“It’s a very protected environment,” Mayer said.
The lake will not be frozen. The NHL could not play its players on the lake even if it was frozen because of safety and competitiveness standards. But by building a regulation ice rink on the fairway of the 18th hole with such a landscape in the background, it will almost seem like the game is being played in the middle of the lake.
“Yes, it will be on a golf course, but you won’t be able to see it because everything will be picturesque,” said Mayer.
The NHL will build everything necessary for an NHL game, but nothing more in terms of design. Changing rooms will look like wooden huts; players will have access to showers only at the hotel. The scoreboard will be retro in style.
“The idea is that teams can get to the rink while being isolated,” said Mayer. There will be some facilities, but we will not be building a stadium. There will be no place for supporters to sit and watch. We’re really going to make sure we protect the place.
“Then we’ll let them play. «