When the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers step on the ice for warmups ahead of the Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday game (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS), it will be their first chance to take in the scenery and views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada from the ice.
It wasn’t exactly the way they planned it, or what they expected. or, most notably, when, after an anticipated Saturday practice was moved indoors and their game time was shifted from 2 p.m. ET to Sunday evening. But in a season when adjusting on the fly has been a near-everyday occurrence, the teams were prepared to make the most of a unique situation.
“We’ve all seen it from the last year of just normal everyday life, and everything’s been kind of thrown upside down, and you’ve just got to adapt,” Bruins forward Charlie Coyle said. “You just stay positive. You can always be in a worse situation. But at the end of the day, we’re playing hockey outdoors with great views. I think we’re pretty lucky to be here and getting to be a part of this.
“It doesn’t matter, this time change or the ice conditions or whatever. You focus on the task at hand, and then just be thankful for those good things.”
Like the chance to play in an outdoor game unlike any the NHL has ever attempted, on a golf course at Lake Tahoe, without fans in attendance because of COVID-19 protocols.
“For us, obviously we would have liked to have had an opportunity to take in a couple of the drills on the ice, on that sheet of ice, but in this league you’ve got to learn to adapt and adapt to everything that’s thrown at you and not make excuses and get the job done,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said.
That has been a lesson well learned over the past year.
“No, I don’t think it changes anything,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said of the revised schedule. “Now that we know, we can prepare as far as that and have our pregame routine and have a little more time before the game, I guess, to get ready. I don’t think it changes anything. As I said, I truly believe the League will do the best job they can to have good ice and a good environment for a good game.”
That leaves warmups for appreciating the view. Because after that, there are two crucial points on the line.
The Bruins (.733 points percentage) and Flyers (.679) are the top two teams in the MassMutual East Division, though Boston is 4-0-0 against Philadelphia.
Each team will be missing key players. The Flyers are without six regulars who are on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list: forwards Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, and Jakub Voracek, and defenseman Justin Braun. The Bruins are without forwards David Krejci and Ondrej Kase, and defensemen Jakub Zboril and Matt Grzelcyk because of injury, and defenseman Kevan Miller for “load management,” as coach Bruce Cassidy put it.
“I think that’s just the beauty of this year,” Flyers forward Joel Farabee said. “Everyone in our lineup’s been around. We know what we need to do. We can’t just dwell on the guys that aren’t here. I think we’ve just got to have that next man up mentality.”
Because learning to adapt has been, as Farabee said, “in the back of everyone’s minds” this season. Especially for a team that just came off a mandated week-long break because of COVID-19 protocols. The Flyers had their Feb. 9 game against the Washington Capitals postponed and didn’t resume practice until Feb. 16. The Flyers had four games postponed because of protocols and returned Thursday with a 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.
Some did get a chance to scope out the view, with Cassidy and Boston general manager Don Sweeney heading over to the rink to check it out around 9 a.m. Saturday and the Flyers planning to walk over as a team in the afternoon.
Cassidy said the canceled practice is not unusual. The Bruins went through the same thing at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, when their family skate didn’t pan out because of rain.
And though the views might be different, the rest of the game remains the same.
“It’s an experience, you know, and you want to enjoy the experience and see the surroundings and just see where you are quickly, get it out of your system and start playing hockey,” Coyle said. “I think the more you enjoy it, the more fun you’ll have, and we’ll play better as a team that way.”