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Skaters Voice “Sticky” Ice Concerns Ahead of Winter Classic

Having hosted 38 outdoor games across 29 states since 2003, it’s unsurprising to learn the league has reduced rink construction to a science. Equipped with a “one-of-a-kind” refrigeration unit, the NHL is able to monitor ice quality at all times and adjust conditions in an instant, even with rinks merely days into existence. 

But outdoor rinks inevitably differ from their indoor, climate-regulated counterparts. Rain, humidity, direct sunlight, and varying temperatures can distort the surface, affecting speed and pass accuracy. Worse, nothing can be done to completely prevent their effects.

A retractable roof has kept the Winter Classic rink from suffering at the hands of mother nature over the course of installment, albeit there hasn’t been much to protect it from. Seattle’s had a fairly mild, dry December. Weather conditions for a noon puck drop today are projected to be more of the same, making for an ideal outdoor setting– overcast and hovering around 45 degrees.

Even so, concerns were raised in both locker rooms over the quality of the ice.

Seattle and Vegas took the ice yesterday for the first time since rink installment was completed for morning skates lasting approximately thirty minutes involving typical drills. Consensus is, the ice is hindering puck and blade movement.

Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb felt the ice was “stickier than usual,” resulting in rough passes, “I think it might affect the game to be honest with you.” Jonathan Marchessault agreed, noting the puck’s resistance to “glide” like normal. 

Bruce Cassidy, Vegas’ head coach, confirmed this, pointing out that the ice might need to be scraped more frequently than normal to account for the surface.

Seattle’s own Tye Kartye attested to their observations, but did point out it was a disadvantage every skater would have to battle against. “It was [slow] but we’re both playing on the same ice, so everybody’s got to deal with it.” In the end, it won’t make any difference.

Experiences did vary– teammate Jordan Eberle thought the issue lay elsewhere, emphatic that the ice was “great” but suggesting the pucks might not have been frozen prior to morning skate, hurting the ease with which they slid. 

Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol refrained from directly commenting on ice quality, opting for a flexible opinion on the matter. “Once the game gets rolling, I don’t know how much [ice quality] really matters,” he said. “Whatever comes your way, that’s part of playing outdoors. And you have to be ready to roll with that and be prepared for it.” 

For Hakstol, concern was to be had with depth perception for his goaltenders given the increased distance of the rink from the stands, as well as the open sky, can make it difficult to identify high-flying pucks. Joey Daccord made sure to practice deflecting such pucks during morning skate in preparation for what’s due to be his first-ever outdoor start. He led the Kraken out onto the ice for warmups Monday morning.

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