The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the NHL schedule quite a bit, but one thing it didn't impact was the league's annual tradition of hosting outdoor games.
This weekend, NHL Outdoors will take centre stage at the Edgewood Tahoe Resort on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, California, when the Vegas Golden Knights face the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, and the Boston Bruins square off against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
The games at Lake Tahoe mark the first time a regular season outdoor game will take place outside of a football or baseball stadium, and it made me wonder: how would this look against the backdrop of Western Canada, and which matchups would work for it?
We already know the league discussed the possibility of opening the 2021 NHL season at Lake Louise before that fell through, but let's dig into the idea a little further and identify some other fun — and occasionally outlandish — locations the league could consider if they wanted to bring NHL Outdoors north of the border.
The EA Canada team in Burnaby, B.C., gets an assist on this first one. In NHL 19, the NHL Ones pond hockey mode was introduced to the series. The mode has a variety of playable rinks, including one known as “The Ring.” It's the premier rink in the mode and is directly outside of a resort that resembles Whistler Blackcomb properties such as the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
The venue is only virtual right now, but the idea of hosting a game there in real life is compelling. The rink would certainly include a view of the mountains as well as the surrounding village area, making for an incredible visual on a television broadcast.
Assuming it would be an all-Canadian matchup, it would make sense to have Vancouver, the lone team in the province, take on the NHL's biggest star in Connor McDavid and his Edmonton Oilers. Once we get to the point when travel between Canada and the U.S. opens up, it would also be great to see the Canucks welcome the Seattle Kraken.
How much fun would it be to see one of the first matchups in a long-desired rivalry between the two neighbours take place at one of the most picturesque games in NHL history?
Canadian Badlands, Alta.
This idea is way out there and would have to get clearance from Parks Canada and UNESCO, but it would be the absolute peak of a “made for TV” game. The Badlands in southern Alberta are known for being a hub for summer camping, hiking trails, Dinosaur National Park and tall spires of rock called hoodoos.
With the area being known as more of a visitor attraction in the warmer months, it would be cool to play into that and change our perception of how we think about outdoor games in Canada. The matchup could be held in either the first week of the season or in early to mid April and would have to be a Battle of Alberta.
For the best visual experience, it would be best to play the game at a time when there’s normally minimal snow in the area. The NHL has shown before that you don’t need freezing temperatures to pull off an outdoor game in the U.S., and it'd be great to see the same in Canada.
Red River Mutual Trail, Winnipeg, Man.
Winnipeg offers a venue that’s already used for skating and some hockey so this one is not that far fetched, but it's still unique in its own right. The Forks community river trail, which set a Guinness World Record in 2008 for being the longest natural frozen skating trail, is a staple of the city’s downtown during the winter.
The trail can vary in length from six kilometres up to 10, which it reached in 2018 to mark the longest it has ever been. The Forks is a national historic site, so there would need to be a little work done to get approval for this game as well.
Winnipeg has already taken on both Edmonton and Calgary in two editions of the Heritage Classic, so it only makes sense to complete the Western Canadian circle by having Vancouver take part in this game.
Although it's extremely unlikely the NHL would ever consider hosting an outdoor game without fans — and the accompanying gate revenue — in a post-pandemic world, you can't deny hosting a game at any of these venues would an unforgettable experience for hockey fans across the country.
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