Many fans can’t get enough of the game played on an outdoor rink on a crisp winter day. But by now, the outdoor NHL games, including the Stadium Series, Winter Classic, and Heritage Classic games (for Canadian franchises), might feel a bit tired. With news that two games will be held at Lake Tahoe during the 2020-21 season, the NHL is trying to rejuvenate this tradition in a beautiful new setting.
The Colorado Avalanche are slated to play their new division rivals, the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, Feb. 20, while the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers will round out the weekend with a game on Sunday, Feb. 21. With a franchise record of 0-2 in outdoor games, the Avalanche will be looking to beat the house in Nevada and erase that zero.
The Lake Tahoe game and the week leading up to it will provide a chance to reflect on key issues during the Avalanche’s 2020-21 season: rest (injuries), reflection (game plans and matchups), and division rivals.
Stadium Series Redemption
The Avalanche hosted their first two appearances in the Stadium Series. In 2015-16, they lost a high-scoring affair, 5-3, to the Detroit Red Wings at Coors Field. Brad Richards scored with one minute left in the third, and the Avs couldn’t recover. Last season (Feb. 15, 2020), before the NHL hiatus, the Avs hosted the Los Angeles Kings at Falcon Stadium (Air Force Academy) in Colorado Springs. The Tyler Toffoli show rolled into town that day with a hat-trick to help the Kings to a 3-1 victory.
The situation will be different in Lake Tahoe and potentially favourable to Colorado, who will not be the home team and without fans in attendance. These issues might seem irrelevant, but being relieved of hosting responsibilities during what is expected to be a media spectacle, should free up the Avs to focus on the game and allow them to rest.
Resting Grubauer and Francouz
With a grueling schedule that has the team playing nearly every other night throughout the season, the Lake Tahoe event will give the Avalanche a full three days off before the game on Feb. 20. This will be particularly important for goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. Furthermore, the Avs play the Golden Knights on Feb. 14 and 16 at T-Mobile Arena, which means they will already be in Nevada and have minimal travel before the outdoor soiree.
Beyond the week of April 11-17, when the Avalanche only play two games, the week of their outdoor game could be considered a key time to rest during the compact season. The team can also assess injuries and maybe regroup after a rapid start. With injuries and consistency being a significant concern for some important roster players, this opportunity cannot be taken lightly.
Reflection (Game Plans and Matchups)
Saturday, Feb. 20, will also mark game 19 of a 56-game schedule. The Avs will essentially be one-third of the way through the season and will have played every team in the realigned West Division at least twice. This is when divisional positioning will start to take shape and initial clues to second-half battles should have appeared by this point.
Despite the speculative opportunities, the Avs will have a better sense of their division at this point and what it will take to finish at the top. They can use these days during the Lake Tahoe event to review, adjust, revamp, or strengthen their game plan going forward.
The 2020-21 outdoor event will also be the third in a stretch of four consecutive games against the Golden Knights which is half of the season series played in the first third of the schedule (two more are in March and two in April).
The Avs also have a stretch of four in a row against the Minnesota Wild at the end of January and beginning of February, and against the San Jose Sharks near the end of the season, but the four against the Golden Knights (including Lake Tahoe) are arguably the most important games of 2020-21. These consecutive playoff-like matchups could determine who sits at the top of the division.
Beyond what is sure to be a visually stunning event, the Lake Tahoe game offers multiple reasons for the Avalanche and their fans to circle the date on their calendar. It will be a refreshing take on outdoor hockey games, and for the Avalanche, it will be an important period of rest, reflection, and, a battle with the Golden Knights.
Sports and music writer, covering the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Lecturer at King’s University College. Loves a good day at the outdoor rink.