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NHL Lake Tahoe event owes nod to ‘Mystery, Alaska’

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When he called the office, Craig was told Howard Baldwin wanted to speak to him. Baldwin was a part-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time; he was also a film producer. Craig immediately called Baldwin in Los Angeles.

“Dan, do you know where Canmore, Alberta, is?” Baldwin asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you know what a kinook is?”

“Yes.”

‘I have a movie on top of a lake and I lose an inch of ice every day. Is there anything you can do to help me? ‘

The movie was “Mystery, Alaska,” in which the New York Rangers travel to a fictional wilderness town to play an open-air exhibition.

Funny to look back on that now. The film sparked the idea of ​​playing in a stadium outside of a hockey game, which led to the NHL playing 30 outdoor games in stadiums since 2003, leading to the closest thing the NHL has ever done to “ Mystery, Alaska, ” the NHL Outside at Lake Tahoe this weekend.

Life will imitate art when the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights play in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday (3:00 PM ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS) and the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers play in the Honda NHL Outdoors Sunday (15 : 00 ET); NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS).

You have snowy mountains. You have a TV crew that broadcasts a unique spectacle. And behind the scenes, you have a refrigerated trailer and pipes that run to the ice so the show can continue.

Craig is now NHL Vice President of Facility Operations and advises on-site Derek King, who is NHL Senior Manager Facility Operations and in charge of the rink on the 18th fairway of the golf course at Edgewood Tahoe Resort.

Many details differ from how the ice was made in the movie, but not the basics.

“The trailer, the pipes to the floor, is exactly like ‘Mystery, Alaska,’” Craig said.

Growing up in Jasper, Alberta, 3½ hours northwest of Canmore, Craig knew all about Chinooks, the warm, dry winds that blow along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains in late winter. He had transitioned from working in his high school job at the age of 15 to making ice cream for the Edmonton Oilers to join the NHL in 1997.

His first project was to build an ice rink atop a swimming pool in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Arena so that the Anaheim’s Mighty Ducks and Vancouver Canucks could play two regular season games to open the 1997-98 season. A few days in advance, he called Brian Burke, then an NHL manager.

Brian, don’t put the boys on the plane. We cannot do this. We just can’t do this. ‘

“Dan, you make it happen.”

“OK.”

The ice didn’t even come close to what Craig considered the NHL standard, but he made it happen.

So when he got Baldwin on the line, Craig called Ralph Goddard of Commercial Refrigeration, who had taken him to Japan and built the refrigerated trailer they used to make the ice there.

Craig knew the trailer had been in Edmonton to be serviced after the trip. Goddard told him it was on its way to Los Angeles.

“I need that trailer in Alberta,” Craig told him.

“Serious?”

“Yes, serious.”

Craig never went to Canmore himself, but because he worked for the NHL and was asked to assist the co-owner of an NHL team, he stayed in constant communication with Goddard, who moved the trailer, equipment, and manpower to the film set.

“I know when Dan called Dad, we were stranded at a conference in Colorado Springs because they had a massive snow storm,” said Brad Goddard, son of Ralph Goddard, who died of cancer last year. “Daddy took a rental car and drove anyway.”

Ron Villetard was working for Commercial Refrigeration at the time and had just returned to Edmonton from installing an ice rink in New Hampshire. The office called.

“Don’t unpack,” he was told. “You have to go to Canmore. They’re doing a movie. ‘

A movie?

“Boy, I’m telling you that,” said Villetard. “I jumped into the fire.”

Villetard spent about a month in Canmore, alternating 12-hour shifts with a partner, and working with the film’s director, Jay Roach.

Long story short, they laid pipes so they could pump a brine solution through them, dissipate heat with the refrigerated trailer, and refreeze the surface. They even created a zigzag path of ice from a shack down to the rink so the Mystery team could exit the locker room and make a grand entrance.

“It was interesting,” said Villetard. “I could wander around on set. Some days, when they were going to film for an hour and they didn’t need me, I would sit in the stands as a fan.”

If you watch the movie closely, you can see the refrigerated trailer disguised as a TV truck. The steam that rises from it gives it away.

After “Mystery, Alaska” was released on April 1, 1999, Michigan State University assistant hockey coach David McAuliffe got the idea to play arch-rival Michigan at Spartan Stadium. The school decided to give it a try, planning an offside for October 6, 2001 and using the same refrigerated trailer as in the movie.

Again, warm weather caused problems with the ice. Craig made a rush trip to East Lansing, Michigan, and was practically ready to grab a mop bucket, slush and build a dam himself around the base of the rink, soaked to his knees.

Had it been a disaster, outdoor hockey might never have progressed. But with Craig’s help and cooler weather per game time, Michigan State made it happen. The “Cold War” drew 75,544 fans, a world record for hockey at the time.

That gave the Oilers the idea of ​​hosting an outdoor game, which the NHL turned into the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on November 22, 2003. A crowd of 57,167 braved the bitter cold to watch the Montreal Canadiens beat the Oilers 4-3. .

The first Winter Classic came on January 1, 2008, then Sidney Crosby the shootout winner scored in a snow flurry, and the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabers 2-1 in front of 71,217 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

Outdoor hockey has been an important part of the NHL ever since. The League has organized outdoor games for hundreds of thousands of fans across the continent in all kinds of conditions and stadiums. It has invested in its own infrastructure, including two refrigerated trailers. And it has gained the experience and confidence to take on tremendous challenges.

When the coronavirus pandemic limited crowds, the NHL had to run this season. Playing outside in a remote environment with no fans present was always a romantic idea, but never made economic sense. If there was ever a time to do it as a made for TV event, it is now.

So what if the NHL had never staged a game on a golf course? So what if the League only had one site visit and two months to plan?

Tokyo was a long time ago, and none of this is a mystery anymore.

“If you ask the question, ‘Can we do this?’ Whatever [this] I’m always going to say yes, ”Craig said. I know there will be challenges, but yes. Can we do it? Yes. Never ask the question. “Can you?” Yes. We will take care of it. “



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