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Home > Featured > PHOTOS: The NHL arrives in Lake Tahoe

PHOTOS: The NHL arrives in Lake Tahoe

By Trevor Bexon
The NHL's 53-foot, 300-ton capacity refrigeration unit used to create the ice rinks for the league's outdoor games. Image: Trevor Bexon

An ice rink is taking shape on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. This week the National Hockey League gave a tour to media outlets to show the early stages of the rink installation on the lakefront 18th fairway of Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline, Nevada.

Nestled on the border between California and Nevada, Edgewood is best known for hosting the celebrity golf tournament, the American Century Championship, each year since 1990.

This winter, Edgewood will host two NHL regular-season games on Saturday, Feb. 20 and Sunday, Feb. 21. Saturday’s game is between the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. Sunday’s game will feature the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins.

Both games will be broadcast at 12 p.m. PST on NBC, and will be played without spectators.

Since 2003, the NHL has staged 30 regular-season outdoor games, with Lake Tahoe’s games set to be numbers 31 and 32.

Of the 30 games already played outdoors, these are the first to have the title of “NHL Outdoors,” emphasizing Lake Tahoe’s picturesque setting surrounded by tall pine trees, America’s largest alpine lake, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains towering in the background.

Usually, the outdoor games are under the names of “Stadium Series,” “Heritage Classic” or “Winter Classic” and regularly host more than 40,000 fans. A 2014 event at Michigan Stadium drew 105,491 fans.

COVID restrictions open the door for a Tahoe event

This year, crowd size restrictions due to pandemic-related public health guidelines gave the NHL an opportunity to explore new outdoor venues that offered a smaller event footprint, such as the site at Edgewood. The league wouldn’t need to accommodate both the rink and seating for thousands of spectators.

“Ever since we began staging outdoor games in 2003 and made it a regular feature of our annual schedule in 2008, we have considered myriad non-stadium settings, but they always were rendered impractical because of the sheer volume of demand from our fans to attend,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

While fans won’t get to experience the thrill of an outdoor game in a setting as renowned as Lake Tahoe, the teams have already expressed their excitement about the venue.

Saturday’s match-up is the first ever outdoor game for the Vegas Golden Knights, a relative newcomer in the NHL and the closest thing to a home team for Nevada. Team Chairman and CEO Bill Foley said the locale is “a truly majestic location for our sport to return to its roots. Skating and playing hockey on ponds, lakes and canals brings back fond memories for all of us who grew up loving the game. We can’t wait.”

Management for each of the three other teams expressed similar enthusiasm for the venue, remarking on the beauty and spectacle of the area.

Days of preparation for hours of play

The challenges of creating an official NHL-caliber ice rink outdoors are immense, exposed to elements not usually present indoors, officials said.

To accommodate its outdoor games, the NHL designed and built a one-of-a-kind mobile refrigeration unit and rink system.

The 53-foot, 300-ton capacity refrigeration unit pumps glycol coolant into custom-made aluminum trays running through a series of hoses from the refrigeration unit to the field. The glycol chills the trays in order to keep the ice near its ideal surface temperature of 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

Following the placement of the ice trays, the rink boards are installed in preparation for regular tap water to be added.

In an NHL arena, the ice is built to a thickness of approximately 1-1.25 inches. An outdoor rink, however, requires up to 2 inches of ice thickness to help withstand the more extreme elements. To reach that thickness, workers will use about 10,000 gallons of water.

Water is added as slowly as possible, in as fine a mist as the process will allow. Workers pass the spray wand over the ice rink hundreds of times, providing for a more even freeze and a better quality of playing surface.

For finishing touches, the ice surface is whitened using water-soluble paint. The lines and logos are then painted and placed on the surface, with more ice built on top.

Once the rink construction is complete, officials monitor the ice conditions with an embedded system coined “Eye on the Ice.” The technology provides updates on ice temperatures in different areas of the rink around the clock, signaling for more heat or cooling to maintain an ideal skating surface.

Two stands have also been constructed in front of the rink for television cameras and commentators to work. The view behind the rink is of the expansive Lake Tahoe with the Sierra Nevada range towering behind.

During the game, locals will enjoy a unique sight to have that familiar view as the backdrop on national television.

Let’s hope for decent weather conditions!

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