Lake Tahoe NHL Outdoors rink wows Golden Knights, Avalanche

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You have to see it to believe it.

Peter DeBoer said those words after the Vegas Golden Knights coach put the team through a fun, spirited pregame practice Friday on the NHL’s makeshift rink built atop the 18th fairway at Edgewood Tahoe Resort, a slap shot away from Lake Tahoe with the Sierra Nevada in the distance.

“I think the pictures, as beautiful as they are, don’t do it justice,” DeBoer said. “I grew up in Canada and I know anywhere in the Northeast of the United States or Minnesota, anywhere they can build outdoor rinks, there’s always a competition on the street of whose dad can build a better rink. Every year you come back, and someone adds lights or a scoreboard. This is a drop the mic-type outdoor rink. It’s the nicest I’ve ever seen.”

DeBoer’s mouth wasn’t the only one that dropped when the Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche skated for the first time on the rink that will host them in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN1, SN, TVAS).

“Hard to describe, really,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said.

Vegas captain Mark Stone said, “The mountain view is incredible. Having those big trees kind of surround the rink, they did a great job making everything look really rustic with the wood paneling. It really brings it back to the old school outdoor rinks. It’s probably the best outdoor rink you’ll ever see.”

This wasn’t just lip service. The players and coaches from both teams did their best to live it up too, to get the most out of the experience by getting to the rink early and staying on the ice until the final seconds of their allotted time ticked away.

Video: 2021 NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe time-lapse

Vegas practiced first at 10 a.m. local time. The Avalanche went on the ice around 11:30.

“I think a good example was we had an early practice today and we had two busses go and I think there were only three or four guys waiting for the second bus,” Vegas forward Reilly Smith said. “Everyone was just so excited to get here and see what was going on even though most of us came here last night and checked out the facility. It’s special. For a lot of us it’s probably just going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Outdoor games are few and far between. To be able to play in one, especially here at this setting is pretty amazing. We want to soak it in. There’s a lot of games throughout this season, definitely highlight this one.”

The wind and sun made for challenging conditions, but the ice held up even as the glare got brighter as the morning turned into afternoon. The altitude surely tested lung capacities.

The games this weekend, including the Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins (2 p.m. ET; NBC, SN1, SN, TVAS) will be played at 6,224 feet above sea level.

It’s the second highest altitude game in NHL history behind the 2020 Navy Federal Credit Union Stadium Series game at Falcon Stadium on the Air Force Academy campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That one between the Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings was played at an elevation of 6,621 feet.

Video: Listen to the sounds of the Lake Tahoe rink

No one seemed to care about any of the challenges.

“We ran through some traditional pregame practice stuff early and then played a little 3-on-3 to get that experience that these guys would have on an outdoor rink in the small towns they grew up in when you just went out and dropped the puck and played for hours on end,” DeBoer said.

It should make for a memorable Saturday.

“There is something to be said just for our team and Vegas’ team getting out onto this sheet of ice right by the lake,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “You’re standing on the ice looking right at the lake. We’re right at the edge of it. It’s going to be quite the experience tomorrow to be able to play. Even without the fans it’s going to be something special here that guys are going to be able to look back on and say that was a real cool experience for our team.”

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