The N.H.L.’s previous 30 outdoor games have been played across the United States and Canada in football and baseball stadiums, with pageantry fitting of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, and the triumphant ticket revenue of the Cotton Bowl and the University of Michigan’s Big House.
But with the coronavirus pandemic keeping fans away, the league returned to an idea it has had for many years: a game where the scenery becomes the star.
On Saturday and Sunday at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort on the state line between Nevada and California, the N.H.L. will stage a pair of outdoor games on consecutive days on the same site for the first time. Also for the first time, the ice rink will be set against a backdrop of North America’s largest alpine lake, snow-capped mountains and an endless sprawl of pine trees, on the lakefront 18th fairway of a golf course.
“It’s one of the purest forms of the game that we could play, being outdoors,” said left wing Gabriel Landeskog, whose Colorado Avalanche will face the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern time. “Most of us grew up skating on lakes and outdoor rinks.”
“This is a drop-the-mic type of outdoor rink,” said Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer. “It’s the nicest I’ve ever seen.”
Even beyond the near-total absence of fans at games, the N.H.L. has not been spared the impact of the pandemic. It suspended play last March, then resumed in July with a reconfigured playoff format and all games held in two “bubbles” in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. The Stanley Cup was awarded on Sept. 28, and this season began in January, more than three months later than usual. Team valuations declined last season for the first time in 20 years, according to Forbes.
Events have been canceled, including this year’s All-Star Weekend and two outdoor events, the Winter Classic and Stadium Series, leaving the league in need of a signature moment.
The N.H.L. scouted sites such as Lake Louise in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, and others in the United States, but ultimately settled on Tahoe, a site that met the criteria for both scenic beauty and logistical needs, topping a pandemic-permitted event with an alluring bow.
“With everything that’s going on, everyone’s trying to find the best way to stay sane and do the things that they love to do. Fortunately we are able to play hockey and do our jobs,” said left wing Brad Marchand, whose Boston Bruins play the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern time. “It does kind of tie it all together, being able to have these games played right now and also to be able to do it outside.”