Open letter to the NHL: Next year, play #NHLOutdoors on natural ice
By Save Pond Hockey
The weekend is over and the much-anticipated #NHLOutdoors games have wrapped up…and they were absolutely remarkable! Snow-capped mountains, glistening lake water, and majestic pines provided a picturesque backdrop for the most spectacular outdoor games to date. Bravo. With breathtaking scenery such as this, it was a ‘miracle on ice’ (shoutout to Lake Placid) that the players were able to concentrate on the games at all!
- “It reminds you of how you grew up playing the game and loving the game. It’s about remembering playing with your brother, your friends, all the memories. It kind of adds a different element to the game, makes it even more special. I think that’s what makes it a lot of fun for us. It brings back the kid in us.” – Patrice Bergeron, Captain of the Boston Bruins
Countless fans across North America and around the world tuned in to appreciate the inaugural Outdoor Series. COVID-19, and the resulting restrictions, presented a unique opportunity to replace the traditional Winter Classic and Stadium Series with fanless games in a stunning setting. But with new opportunities also comes great risks, and those risks played out in real-time on Saturday afternoon as “excessive sunlight” wreaked havoc on the refrigerated ice and forced the first of the weekend’s games to be postponed until after sunset. After all, the starting time of Sunday’s game was also postponed.
Nonetheless, it was a worthy and exciting challenge to organize high-altitude ice hockey games at high noon on the California-Nevada border. While the NHL successfully salvaged the games, it’s unlikely that we will see another outdoor game at Lake Tahoe after this misfortune.
And with that, everyone is asking: “where next?” This is a tremendous sign of success for the NHL. It validates the vision of playing hockey at mesmerizing locations and shows that it resonated with the fans. They want more! Many are calling for this style of #NHLOutdoors to be repeated every year, and we can’t blame them. Some have even labelled this as the most beautiful sporting event in U.S. history! So, where to next year? The sentimental Americans have suggested such immaculate venues as Lake Placid and Central Park, while nature-loving Canadians are clamouring for Lake Louise or Whistler. All of these spots would be just as memorable as this year’s glorious event at Lake Tahoe, if not more. One thing is clear: The NHL must include this new Outdoor Series every season. Just imagine the possibilities!
We have. This past weekend’s #NHLOutdoors games were exceptional, loved by fans and players alike…but the next ones can be even better. During the leadup to these matches, the NHL has repeatedly advertised them as “taking hockey back to its roots”. But nothing can bring hockey closer to its roots than where it was born: natural ice. Whether it’s a frozen body of water, the the community ice, or the backyard rink, natural ice represents real outdoor hockey.
- “We pretty much had seven or eight outdoor rinks within walking distance from us growing up. My brother, Michael, and I would spend a crazy amount of time out there. There was a little hut so you could go in there, throw your skates on, head out for three or four hours, freeze your toes, go back in, warm up, and then head back out.” – Mark Stone, Captain of the Vegas Golden Knights
This is where most young hockey players first experience hockey as a kid. All of the greats, including The Great One, learned to skate, developed their skills, and fell in love with the game on natural ice. Many players at Lake Tahoe even shared fond memories about their childhood growing up and playing at the local rinks with friends and family. With heartwarming memories such as these, it’s easy to understand why outdoor hockey is deep in our hearts and cultural heritage.
- “I was pretty fortunate that my uncle was my neighbor. He built a pretty good-sized rink. Usually, my cousins and my friends would gather there after school. We had lights because it gets dark pretty quick. We’d play until my mom yelled at me to come in for dinner. If we didn’t have school the next day, we’d go back out after dinner and play all night.” – Marc-Andre Fleury, Goalie of the Vegas Golden Knights
Natural ice is also directly connected to the local environment and climate. Therefore, it has a direct connection to climate change. Organizing next year’s outdoor games on natural ice would provide a huge opportunity to raise awareness about the biggest challenge facing the world and the greatest threat to outdoor hockey. By connecting pond hockey with climate change, the NHL will demonstrate enviable leadership in the climate discussion.
- “Playing on outdoor ice helped me to achieve my dream. I practically spent all of the days in my childhood from October to April on the rivers and ponds of Moscow. Unfortunately, nowadays, swimwear would be needed instead of skates.” – Save Pond Hockey Ambassador Viacheslav Fetisov
Next year, we hope that you do that right thing and play the #NHLOutdoors games on natural ice, where hockey was born. This will truly “take hockey back to its roots”, and present a perfect occasion to connect the dots between the impacts of climate change and the future of outdoor hockey. The puck is in your rink, NHL.
Save Pond Hockey