Outdoor games draw fans. The NHL’s Stadium Series, Outdoor Classic and Heritage Classic have upped attendance records since their 21st Century reincarnation. The 2003 Heritage Classic drew 57,167 fans, a league record that stood until 71,217 fans in Buffalo set another NHL record at the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008. The 2014 Winter Classic, between Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings, drew 105,491 fans, the current NHL record.
The 2019 Stadium Series game featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers looks to try to break the record as it boasts a rivalry that is not just a storied one but has become part of the fabric that is Pennsylvania sports. The game is also a rematch of the 2017 Stadium Series at Heinz Field where the Penguins won 4-2 on a frigid February night.
The final product that the fans and media experience on Saturday is a far cry from the humble roots that have been laid for this event to happen. Less than two weeks ago Lincoln Financial field was recovering from a Philadelphia Eagles football season but thanks to 80 local laborers and 50 NHL employees the playing surface is almost ready to host its first hockey game.
Leading the preparation efforts is Derek King, NHL senior manager of facilities operations. King is overseeing his second experience preparing an outdoor game in Philadelphia. He was also on the crew for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic that was played next door at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Philadelphia atmosphere gels with King and he is happy to be part of it once more.
“That was my second outdoor game,” King told NHL.com. “It’s nice to be back in Philly. I have a few more games under my belt now. It’s nice to come back and look at it from a different point.”
The King-led preparations started about two weeks ago and the NHL has been working feverously through the changing weather. NHL fans and media member continue to receive updates on the transformation through social media, and the NHL has released time-lapse videos detailing the set up of the rink. Here is the latest update on the progress made:
The ice is probably the most crucial part of the rink. No ice, no game, and the NHL continue to make sure the most valuable part of the rink is perfect. For a regular game, the ice is built up to a thickness of approximately 1 to 1.25 inches of ice. The thickness allows the ice to be carved up by the skates by players, maintained by Zambonis, and hold strong during the average NHL game. The outside doesn’t allow the margin for error that an arena allows so everything has to be ideal. An outdoor game requires up to two inches of ice to withstand any extreme weather patterns. That much ice requires approximately 20,000 gallons of water.
The weather is the larger factor. The sun can wreck havoc on the ice, but the 8 pm start of the game benefits the fortitude of the ice. This fact hasn’t escaped King.
“It’s better for us because we don’t have to worry about the sun,” King said. “If it is a sunny day during the game, the sheet of ice will be covered with tarps and closer to game time; we’ll uncover it and get ready for warm-ups like any other game.”
The NHL utilizes a 53-foot trailer refrigeration unit that’s used to make the ice for the game. The filters and pipes contain ammonia and glycol, which are the primary and secondary refrigerants, respectively.The water is added gradually in small increments to build a better foundation of ice. The unit is the largest in the world and started making ice for the game since last Thursday. It is a long, precise process but the ice should be ready in time for Saturday’s game.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 23, 2016
The 2019 Stadium Series potentially faces challenges as the forecast calls for rain throughout the day. here is the latest: