STATELINE — The weather was a crisp 40 degrees with a breeze. The slightest bit of snow started to fall as the sun battled with the clouds to get a peek at the Golden Knights practicing below.
There was even a rainbow in the distance, framing the mountains serving as the backdrop to the deep-blue Lake Tahoe.
When the NHL came here for an outdoor game at Edgewood Tahoe Resort, it wanted to display the natural beauty of the area, unincumbered by fans and bleachers and everything normally part of an outdoor game. The league wanted a TV event; it wanted scenic views, and it wanted to make a moment in a year buffeted by COVID-19 to be memorable.
As the Golden Knights practiced ahead of Saturday’s noon game with the Avalanche on the rink, stationed at the 18th fairway of the resort’s golf course, it’s hard to come away with the conclusion that the setting is anything but perfect.
“This is a drop-the-mic-type outdoor rink where it’s as nice as I’ve ever seen,” Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said. “I think the guys really, really enjoyed it today. It’s awe-inspiring when you walk out there and see the mountains and the lake in the background. To be able to play in this environment, the only thing we’re missing is fans.”
The Golden Knights started practice in their red reverse retro jerseys and matching knit caps, smiling like children as they took a spin in their new winter wonderland. They normally skate for about 45 minutes on nongame days, but they twirled for well over an hour today as no one was eager to leave the ice.
This was after the Golden Knights had a sneak peek at the rink after they landed in town Thursday night.
“It’s a pretty picturesque event, and we’re all pretty excited to be out here,” forward Reilly Smith said. “I know everyone, if we were allowed to, would have stayed out here all day.”
Why shouldn’t they be excited? The Golden Knights earned the right to be here as one of the league’s best teams, not to mention being the “home” team in the game held on the Nevada side of the lake. Ironically, they are the designated road team.
“I think this is a stepping stone for our organization,” captain Mark Stone said.
Reporters rode buses to the Edgewood resort, where they walked through the trees and by the lake to get to the media risers. The rink is on a golf course, so views weren’t a problem. This resort hosts a celebrity golf tournament, so it was ready for the NHL and its crews to come in for a televised event.
The cameras are stationed on the penalty-box side of the rink, so TV viewers will see the benches and the lake behind the rink. It’s fewer than 100 yards from the water, so it’s not impossible a diver finds a puck on the lakebed later in the year.
“A few guys tried at the end there, flipping a couple of them, make a souvenir out of it in the lake,” forward William Carrier said. “It's a great setup; it's a great view."
The Golden Knights were the first team to skate on the rink, with the Avalanche following them with their own practice. The Bruins and Flyers will practice Saturday morning before the Vegas-Colorado game, then play each other on Sunday.
As fun as practice was, the game against the Avalanche is crucial in the West Division standings, especially after a last-minute goal sent Vegas to a crushing loss in its last game on Tuesday. Once the puck drops, the Golden Knights figure to be laser-focused on picking up two points.
But that’s Saturday’s problem. Today was about hockey players going back to their roots at outdoor rinks and spending time playing the sport they love in one of the most beautiful places the Golden Knights’ home state has to offer.
“Pretty spectacular. It’s a very nice venue when you see the mountains around you,” forward William Karlsson said. “I’ve always heard it’s pretty nice, and it does live up to what people say. It’s truly beautiful.”