Lake Tahoe outdoor games present a unique challenge for the NHL

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STATELINE, Nevada – The NHL sent seven people to Edgewood Tahoe Resort in mid-December to research a potential outdoor event. When they reached the 18th fairway of the golf course on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, it was love at first sight.

“You made us welcome,” said NHL content manager Steve Mayer. “We went to where the location is, and we just took a look around, and we’re like, ‘We’re going to make this work. We will make it work. “”

The Ice Team was hard at work when the sun rose on Tuesday, the crisp white Sierra Nevada and the waves rippling on a clear, calm morning, setting the stage for the NHL Outdoors in Lake Tahoe this weekend.

The Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights will play in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS) and the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers in the Honda NHL Outdoors on Sunday (2 p.m. HE; NBC, SN, SN1, TVA).

But perhaps the most unique event in NHL history has come with some unique challenges, and it started right from the start.

“It was the most unique site visit we’ve ever taken,” said executive vice president of NHL events Dean Matsuzaki.

This event is a product of the coronavirus pandemic. With crowds limited to varying degrees across North America, the NHL decided to pursue the long-held dream of playing a game in the wild to celebrate the game’s most romantic roots.

This event is also taking place in the midst of the pandemic, which means all planning and production had to take place under strict COVID-19 protocols and within a drastically shortened time frame.

The NHL typically makes 15-20 site visits to all departments and has one year to plan an outdoor event. This time, the first site visit was the only site visit, and the League had two months to plan.

The seven-person scout group spent two days at Edgewood Tahoe Resort, based in a meeting room large enough for social distancing.

“Every meeting took place there while we weren’t looking outside,” Matsuzaki said. “We ate all the meals in this room because we couldn’t go to the restaurant.”

The first priority was the location of the ice rink. They laid out the four corners of the deck the rink would sit on to confirm that it would work, and they took lots of photos and measurements.

But they couldn’t take pictures and measurements of everything, and so much happens in an NHL game beyond the rink itself. And when you’re on the golf course for the first time, you miss out on a lot of things you had when hosting 30 outdoor matches in stadiums since 2003, from changing rooms to electrical outlets.

“We didn’t have that much time and we just weren’t focusing on [the rest of the infrastructure] as much, “Matsuzaki said.” And then as we started to plan, ‘Well, we need two locker rooms. We need a storage tent. We need office trailers. You start to think about all these other things that we need, and then we start to place them. “

Unable to make more site visits due to the need to cut back on travel, NHL officials relied on maps, satellite imagery and Zoom calls with representatives from Edgewood Tahoe Resort.

They have laid out thousands of square feet of office tents and trailers and have tried to do so in a way that minimizes the impact on the golf course as much as possible, working around the greens, sandboxes, plans of water and trees.

There were inevitable surprises when the NHL arrived in early February to start building.

“We didn’t really know this tree was exactly where we thought it was until we got here,” Mayer said.

They had planned to bring the mobile refrigeration unit and semi-trailer-sized generators on a cart track to their parking spot on what is normally the driving range, but found that they were not. could not take this road because of the low tree branches.

“We had to build a completely different road to get them where they needed to go,” Matsuzaki said. “So that’s the kind of thing we do on the fly.”

There were more surprises than usual. Take the wind on Monday. He was howling from the lake, and there was no support to block him.

“Things still happen [in stadiums], but you’ve usually dealt with them already, ”Matsuzaki said. “‘How did we solve this in the last football stadium?’ But it’s all new territory for us. “

In the last football stadium, they also did not have to solve the problems by wearing masks and respecting social distancing. The daily planning meeting in all NHL departments is being held via Zoom, although many of the callers are now on site.

But they make it work.

“We saw this as a challenge, but [it’s] a challenge that right now hasn’t been a problem at all, “Mayer said.” We are building what we think is a spectacular event. “


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