The aerial shots were gorgeous: a rink on the edge of Lake Tahoe, the backdrop of snow-covered mountains and a few wispy clouds in a clear blue sky.
Apparently, the ice was akin to something you’d scrape off your driveway.
Postcard-perfect, sun-splashed views begat a slushy surface, throwing a wrench into the plans for the four teams playing at Edgewood Tahoe Resort.
The Avalanche and Golden Knights had their Saturday outdoor game deemed unplayable after the first period. With the sun beating down on the rink — most aggressively at center ice — players and officials were tripping over ruts. The second period was moved to midnight EST, and just to be sure, the Bruins and Flyers Sunday matchup was shifted from 3 p.m. EST to 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN).
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on NBC’s broadcast that Saturday presented “the most difficult weather circumstance we’ve had” in any of the 31 outdoor games the NHL has hosted since 2003. “And it’s a beautiful day.”
Weather in Stateline, Nev. (elevation: 6,283 feet), was in the mid-30s and sunny while the Avalanche and Knights were stumbling around. It was expected to be even warmer on Sunday: highs of 43, with some cloud cover. It was prudent to get the Bruins and Flyers out of the sun.
A few sheets of rain or snow flurries wouldn’t have been an issue for the NHL’s icemasters.
“Sunshine,” Bettman said, “has always been our enemy.”
The eight-hour break between the first and second periods, NBC’s Mike Tirico noted, was the longest intermission in NHL history. Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog guessed he would get a bite to eat and lay down. “It’ll be one to remember, that’s for sure,” he said.
The Avalanche and Golden Knights had the first look at the lakeside setup on Friday, but the ice became a concern after that pair of practices. The Bruins’ and Flyers’ Saturday morning skates were moved to a nearby indoor arena.
That rang familiar to the Bruins, who ran into a weather issue before the Jan. 2019 Winter Classic in South Bend, Ind. A steady downpour moved the Bruins’ family skate, and about 100 people, into the Notre Dame practice rink.
When Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney walked from their hotel to the game rink about 9 a.m. local time Saturday, they saw vacationers milling about, and a “winter feel,” said Cassidy, speaking before the NHL announced the changes.
They also saw “one of the best outdoor rinks ever built,” Cassidy said. “Looks great. The views are awesome. Done a really good job with how they framed the rink with the scoreboard, because obviously there’s no stands … It’s not about that. It’s about the game, outdoors, hopefully good conditions to play. I know when the sun shines, it gets a little more difficult on the ice.”
In conditions shoddy or acceptable, the Bruins (10-3-2) were set to face the Flyers (8-3-2) without several regulars.
Second-line center David Krejci, who aggravated a lower-body injury in Thursday’s loss to the Devils, did not travel. Defensemen Matt Grzelcyk (lower body) and Jakub Zboril (upper body), who missed Thursday’s game, weren’t on the trip. Winger Ondrej Kase (upper body) has been MIA since mid-January. Also left home: Kevan Miller, for what Cassidy termed “load management.”
The hard-edged defenseman, who had four knee surgeries since April 2019, was “a little bit sore” after playing in all 15 games this season.
“There’s a break in the schedule, a six-hour flight, then a bus ride, Friday and Sunday,” Cassidy said. “To miss one game and get that week of recovery would be well worth it.”
Both Miller and Krejci are expected to practice when the Bruins return to their Brighton digs early next week, in advance of a Thursday-Friday-Sunday road trip to visit the Islanders and Rangers (twice).
Urho Vaakanainen will make his season debut against the Flyers, skating next to Brandon Carlo. John Moore (left) and Connor Clifton (right) will play their strong sides on the third pair. The Bruins have left-right balance on all three duos.
Cassidy planned to use 22-year-old Jack Studnicka as his third-line center, between fellow speedsters Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk. The coach said the line “looked really good” at Saturday’s practice.
“He hasn’t played that many games in the middle for us,” Cassidy said of Studnicka. “I like they all have young legs, especially in an environment like this. They might be skating into the wind.”
Charlie Coyle will take Krejci’s spot on the second line, with Nick Ritchie and Craig Smith. That line was promising in training camp. After auditioning DeBrusk (with mixed results) on Thursday, the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron combo will have their familiar right wing, David Pastrnak. The fourth line remains Trent Frederic-Sean Kuraly-Chris Wagner.
Speaking before the Avs-Knights game was postponed, Cassidy expected a slower, less precise game between his club and Philly. It’s de rigueur with these outdoor events.
The ice gets bumpy no matter what. The sun might melt spots. Snow accumulates. Wind can knock down or carry a saucer pass. Glare can be blinding.
“Dumbing it down is the simplest way to go,” Cassidy said. “Guys get back to their roots as kids and play hockey.”
Bergeron said the ice at the outdoor games he’s played in, from Fenway to Foxborough and Notre Dame, has “been really good,” he said. “If the ice is a little chippy, you have to get the pucks on net and go north-south.”
Netminder Tuukka Rask, who hadn’t seen the rink, texted with Colorado goalie coach Jussi Parkkila, his former coach for Tampereen Ilves in the Finnish league. The sun, Rask said, was making it “pretty bad for goalies out there,” he said. “Nothing you can do about it. Just try to see the puck as best you can.”
It’s game on. They hope.