Even as temperatures approached 60 degrees in Annapolis and topped 70 in some parts of greater Washington area, workers busied themselves laying the foundation at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the NHL’s 25th outdoor game, one that will feature the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 NHL Stadium Series on March 3.
With the 53-foot, 300-ton capacity refrigeration unit that houses the ice plant used to make the NHL-caliber sheet of ice for the outdoor game arriving this past Sunday, the middle of the stadium was already packed with decking for the construction of the rink. Just outside of the stadium sat the trailer — one of the world’s largest mobile rink refrigeration units, specifically built for outdoor games.
The game between the Capitals and the Maple Leafs will be the first-ever outdoor hockey game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and the first professional event held at the venue. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said he expects the game to be sold out and the pace of ticket sales has started to pick up as Capitals fans have started to realize there will be an outdoor game in the vicinity.
“We really haven’t seen a softening in the market,” said Daly, regarding the uptick in outdoor games over the years. “I think the Stadium Series games are a little different, more unique than the Winter Classic just in terms of how the marketing efforts are and this is really intended to be a local game for local fans supporting their team in a big way.”
Daly said it is the NHL’s hope that this is the first of several games at service academies, and they have started conversations with both Army and Air Force to hold games there, though no official announcements have been made.
“It really is a tribute to the men and women in the armed forces and all they do to protect our freedom on a daily basis so it was certainly a nod to the military,” Daly said. “We are excited about the creative elements associated with that. We are looking forward to the future events with that as well.”
For Vice Admiral Walter E. “Ted” Carter, the United States Naval Academy Superintendent, he hopes the chance to host an outdoor hockey game will showcase the institution. The venue has a capacity of 34,000. Carter said there are always more conversations to be had about other big events being held at the stadium, but they want to get through this event first.
“This is a big deal,” Carter said. “This was two years in the making … based on what I have seen thus far, it is going to be that good and I hate to over-promise, under-deliver, but I think this is going to be delivered the way the NHL want it, the way the Capitals want it, the way the Maple Leafs want it and how we want the Naval Academy to be shown.”
Derek King, the NHL senior manager of facilities operations, said this operation will take over 15 ice crew members, with 100 total staffers and about a week to prepare the stadium. The ice, which is between 1-1.25 inches thick in an NHL arena, will be two inches outdoors because of the extreme elements. This is the 15th outdoor game for King.
“No real concerns for us,” said King of the warm weather. “Obviously, it will be a night game so the sun will be off. All that this is going to do right now is it is going to change our schedule. During the day we won’t do a lot of the work, we will do work in the evening when the sun is off.”
The matchup between the Capitals and the Maple Leafs will be a rematch of the first round of the playoffs, a series that the Capitals won in six games. The Capitals have played in — and won — two outdoor games since 2011. The most recent was the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park, when Washington hosted the Chicago Blackhawks.
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