Where I live, February was a desperately dull month. It was bitterly cold until it wasn’t, and then it rained so much we had historic flooding downriver. It was grey all the time in some sort of unholy mix of November and March. And then the sun burst out a couple of days ago, the temperatures soared, and that urge northerners feel to go outside, finally, was unshakable. I assume people in hot places feel that way when summer cools to a more gentler temperature, or even just when night falls in the desert and you can go outside. But for us up here in the north, it’s when the first hint (however false) of spring strikes that we start to come out of our bunkers and face the world.
It’s hard to fit an outdoor hockey game into that emotional space.
On Saturday, the Maple Leafs play the Washington Capitals outside on a temporary ice rink in a football stadium. As is usual for outdoor games played in warmer climates or later in the season, it’s a night game. It has an 8 p.m. start time, but given how these things go, we know the puck won’t hit ice until much later than that.
The game is in Annapolis, Maryland at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
It’s not that far south, but Annapolis has been having the same warm snap we’ve been having up here, and making this outdoor ice sheet has surely been a challenge. The forecast for game time on Saturday is a decently brisk 7°C with a somewhat worrying amount of wind. They’ll get the ice made, it will be decent enough condition, and the game likely won’t be as much of a challenge as the outdoor game at the WJC was.
The Washington Post has a quick primer on how the ice is made.
The weather forecast for Saturday is partly cloudy with a 25 percent chance of rain. The only thing the league and fans can do is keep their fingers crossed.
“We don’t have a concern for this game because it will be a nighttime start,” said Derek King, the NHL’s senior manager of facilities operations. “What we’ve learned is that if the weather changes, we’ll change with it as well. We’ll cover the sheet up with inflated tarps and do our best to make sure the ice will be ready.”
I watched the Canada-USA outdoor game at this year’s WJC on TV. I’ve seen the Leafs play outside when it was cold and snowy and cold and too sunny. (Remember when they had to delay the game last year because no one had calculated the angle of the sun in a northern city in the winter?) I watched the Avs play Detroit in very sunny Denver with a temperature in the seventies, which is the high teens in Canadian money. I’ve seen games in California at night, which are much better for television viewers, and I’ve come to this conclusion: If you won’t call the game on account of weather, then the game shouldn’t count.
But just like this newest fad of jaunting to Europe to play hockey, you can’t sell fans on the idea of your special event NHL game if it’s not a meaningful game. So they count, they won’t call it off even if there’s a blizzard or the wind is blowing the fake snow onto the ice (that Avs game where this happened was hilarious) or if the glare off the ice is so bad, the eyeblack is more than fashion statement.
At least neither the Leafs nor the Capitals are in a tight playoff race. Both teams would like to get home ice advantage for the first round if they can, however. Both teams might have thoughts of finishing first in their divisions. More the Caps than the Leafs, on that score, but it’s still possible for either.
That’s the con for the Leafs, that this game interrupts their push to carry their strong play into the end of the season that is for them only 15 games long after Saturday.
The pro is the schedule. The layoff in advance of the game means the Leafs can finally have real practices with Tomas Plekanec. They can solidify a no-Auston Matthews lineup which they will need for a few more games, and then they can keep winning as they move into the last few games of the season.
The game itself will likely be a lot of fun. They usually are, but you can’t think too seriously about the conceit of playing outside. Sure, hockey got its start on outdoor rinks, but professional leagues were made from the indoor arena. Hockey used to be played with wooden sticks and no helmets and pads thinner than the quilt on your bed in the spring. Let’s do that too!
Bah, it’s all so silly, and yet, so is sport when you boil it down.
We showed you the Leafs jerseys here:
And Frederik Andersen’s mask has been revealed:
Now, tell us how you feel about all of this.
Are you excited for this game?
|No, I just want playoffs||141|
|Yes, I can’t wait, I love these things||63|
|I forgot this even existed and I don’t know what to think||136|