NHL Lake Tahoe event presents unique challenges for crew building rink

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Derek King stood in the snow, framed by trees, in front of the mountains and the water. As NHL senior manager of facilities operations, he’s in charge of building a hockey rink on the golf course at Edgewood Tahoe Resort in Stateline, Nevada, for one of the most spectacular events in League history: the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe.

Problem is, he wants to keep peeking at what the TV audience will see when the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights play in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday on Feb. 20 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS) and the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers play in the Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday on Feb. 21 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS).

“The views are amazing; it’s pretty tough to work, actually,” King said with a laugh Tuesday. “You’ve got the mountains and the ski hills. The resort here is beautiful, so it’s definitely an exciting place to be. But it’s going to look amazing. I think this is truly going to be one of the most unique games, so it’s going to be exciting to see on game day.”

The NHL has staged 30 outdoor games since 2003. But each has been in a stadium with all the infrastructure that comes with it — stands, press boxes, locker rooms, water connections, electrical outlets, etc.

This time, with the ability to host fans limited by the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL is fulfilling a long-held dream of taking the game back to the most romantic of roots. It will be as close as the NHL can get to pond hockey, a bunch of guys playing for the love of it like they were kids.

The special setting comes with special challenges.

“I guess this is truly an outdoor game, right?” King said. “There’s really nothing here.”

Video: 2021 NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe time-lapse

The process will be the same in many ways. First, the crew will put stage decking on top of the turf to protect it. Then will come a layer of plywood. On top of that will come a floor of interlocking aluminum pans with built-in hoses that circulate glycol, a green liquid like antifreeze.

The aluminum transfers heat to the glycol, which carries it to the Mobile Refrigeration Unit, a trailer with the same ice-making equipment used in an NHL arena. Compressors pull the heat from the glycol using ammonia, a condenser ejects heat into the air, and the glycol is pumped back into the floor.

The Mobile Refrigeration Unit has already been parked at Edgewood Tahoe Resort, with generators providing power. On Tuesday, the crew started running the pipes from the trailer to where the rink will be. King said finding water connections and unloading trucks has been difficult, but everything has been going really well.

If the schedule holds, the floor will be down, the boards will be up, and the crew will start making ice Friday. They can’t simply turn on a hose and flood the surface. Air could become trapped in the ice, and they need a dense, hard sheet. So they’ll fill gaps with slush, then walk slowly up and down the length of the rink spraying a fine mist of water. They’ll wait for it to freeze and do it over and over again, one thin layer at a time.

After they reach about 1 1/4 inches of ice, they’ll paint the surface white and seal it with another quarter inch. Then they’ll lay the lines and logos and seal them with another three-fourths to 1 inch.

Meanwhile, the production company will build a platform for the media, booths for the teams’ front offices and areas for the players to warm up between periods.

“That’ll take us right through until about February the 18th,” King said. “We always like to be a little bit ahead of schedule, so we’ll be ready for practices on the 19th and then obviously the games. …

“We like to finish ahead of schedule if we can. That just kind of gives us some breathing room if we do have any weather move in.”

The 10-day forecast shows high temperatures in the 40s with a mix of sun, clouds, rain and snow. The forecast for Jan. 20 is partly cloudy with a high of 44. The forecast for Jan. 21 is almost identical: partly cloudy with a high of 45.

That would be about perfect to show off the sport and the setting.

“It’s kind of the wow factor, right?” King said. “I’m really looking forward to getting this game underway and just being here in Lake Tahoe.”

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