By Ryan Carius ’21
On Feb. 20, the NHL returned to its roots: hockey on an outdoor stage. That stage was Lake Tahoe, the United States’ largest alpine lake, in close proximity to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The event was a two-day matchup featuring two top opponents in the MassMutual East Division and two cup contenders in the Honda West Division.
The first game of the two matches, on Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday, occurred on Feb. 20 and featured the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche. The Vegas Golden Knights started the season red hot and continued to maintain a top spot in the West Division leading up to puck-drop, but faced a very talented Avalanche team that was only a few games behind the Golden Knights for first place.
The anticipation for this game ensured an exciting first period filled with breathtaking views. Upon completion of the first period, though, the NHL called for a delay to protect players and referees from the hazardous condition of the ice, as the heat made it difficult to maintain a smooth surface. Several holes appeared throughout the rink, causing multiple players to trip and fall.
The NHL decided to delay the game until midnight, giving the players about an eight-hour break between the first and second periods. Once the game restarted, the teams arguably played in the greatest outdoor setting and on ideal conditions. The true masterpiece of a setting was a dream for hockey players and fans alike. Ultimately, the Avalanche were victorious, but it was a close game that showcased the talent of both teams and some of the most highly skilled players in the NHL.
The next matchup, on Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday, was also pushed back to a later time in the day to ensure that the NHL could repair the ice and avoid the conditions experienced the previous day. The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers both wore their retro jerseys to honor this distinct opportunity. David Pastrnak started off red-hot, scoring within the first minute, demonstrating why the Boston Bruins offense is a force to be reckoned with.
Even against a formidable Flyer defense and a young star goaltender in Carter Hart, the Bruins offense was too much to handle. As the game carried on, Philadelphia seemed to unravel and the Bruins were able to net an additional six goals, dominating the Flyers 7-3. Although this second game was not as close as the previous matchup, the conditions of the ice were at least not problematic.
Over the previous years, the NHL has been able to push the limits of where ice hockey can be played. This year, the NHL certainly gave the fans an experience like no other. Although this game was unfortunately not able to allow fan attendance, some spectators were lucky enough to watch from Lake Tahoe on their own boats. Even so, the aesthetic between the ice, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierra Nevada background created an unconventional yet amazing viewing experience for the fans watching from their couches at home.
Despite the delays, the two games were successful, and the NHL can certainly learn from the weather conditions of this experiment with outdoor hockey. One can be optimistic that once hockey returns to normal, the NHL will increase the number of outdoor games at various locations. These Lake Tahoe games displayed that the NHL has evolved past just one annual outdoor game, the Winter Classic, to a league featuring multiple matchups at breathtaking locations.