Saturday, 20 February 2021

Longest Intermission Ever?

It's days like today in Lake Tahoe that one would normally find kids of all ages out on outdoor rinks locally with a sweater and a jersey on as they tear up and down the ice. The warmth of the sun is usually a nice invitation after a cold winter, and absorbing that warmth while the lactic acid burns in one's legs is how afternoons on the outoor rinks are enjoyed. However, the warmth of the sun does make the ice softer, so one has to watch the edge of the rink and the lines that are embedded in the ice because, as players, we normally find danger there when it comes to ruts, cracks, or melting of the ice at those points. For a league like the NHL who pushes their ability to create the magic around outdoor rinks, you'd think they'd know a little more about how rinks are affected by sun considering all the glorification of these grassroots moments they employ.

By now, you're likely aware that the NHL isn't playing the two scheduled games in Lake Tahoe this weekend during the afternoon on either day because the sun has posed a problem with the heat it's bringing to the area. The logo at center ice and the lines were starting to melt faster in the warmth of the sun thanks to their darker colours absorbing the heat faster, causing the ice to crack and develop ruts easier. Being that the playing surface was deemed unsafe, the NHL agreed to pause the game between the Vegas Golden Knight and Colorado Avalanche at the end of the first period with the Avalanche leading 1-0. The game will resume at midnight ET.

Yes, midnight. It won't be the first game to cross into a new day, but it will be the most memorable because the NHL couldn't play in fairly favorable outdoor conditions. Sometimes, the comedy writes itself.

Forget that back on January 3, I wrote, "Since Lake Tahoe's February temperatures average a high of +7C and a low of -3C, something tells me that the NHL won't be able to play their games on the lake as they may have wanted" which seems prophetic today since the NHL couldn't even play on artifical ice, let alone the picturesque lake featuring sailing boats on it today next to ice surface.

I'm not here to play "I told you so", but the NHL has seen something like this before when they tried to play a Heritage Classic game in Winnipeg on October 23, 2016. The league postponed the game due to sunlight and player safety in that outdoor event for the very same reasons they postponed today's game, so one would think this would have been addressed sooner. But apparently not.

As a general rule, we know that colder arenas produce better ice for skating and playing. Hard ice makes for less ruts and chips from skates, so passes and play move faster. With the NHL insisting on playing outdoor games in sunbelt cities, we've seen terrible ice conditions at a number of these outdoor games where the players begrudgingly admit they enjoy the event despite the ice playing a factor in the speed and, ultimately, the outcomes of these games.

With today's nine-hour intermission between the first and second periods, there's hope that the ice surface will be ready for NHL abuse once the game gets underway for the middle stanza. With no fans watching this game, the lineups for the bathrooms were already solved, but I'm sure that a nine-hour break between periods would have solved that problem too. Let's just not make this long break a habit when it comes to outdoor games.

What should become habit, though, is the NHL using its collective intelligence to understand how the sun works in months named "October", "November", or "February". The autumn sun can still be extremely warm as is the spring sun as the latter part of Februarys begin in what has been an exceptionally warm winter across North America. While the NHL will never be able to control the weather, they can use historical data, predictive modelling, and current knowledge to make more accurate predictions for their outdoor games. Some would call this "analytics" in a sense, but I'd call it something else entirely.

The best way to describe it would be "good business strategy", especially when it comes to marquee events like outdoor games. It's pretty clear that the last thing the NHL wants is this kind of egg on its face in the future, cooking in the warm sun.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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