It wasn’t easy for the league to remain on target for Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers in Lake Tahoe. But, alas, here we are with the anticipated matchup no longer in doubt.
The Flyers didn’t even know if they’d make the trek after their COVID-19 outbreak a couple of weeks ago. They were cleared for play earlier in the week, yet a handful of players stayed on the COVID protocol list and didn’t travel with the team.
The Bruins, fresh off their first set of back-to-back regulation losses, arrived with zero confirmed coronavirus cases but will have a few bodies missing as well. David Krejci (lower-body), Kevan Miller (rest), Matt Grzelcyk (lower-body), Jakub Zboril (lower-body) and Ondrej Kase (upper-body), didn’t make the trip for Boston’s fourth outdoor hockey game in the last 11 years.
The National Hockey League moved their practices from the picturesque outdoor environment to indoors on Saturday. As the Bruins held their media availability, the league had to delay the final two periods of the Vegas-Colorado matchup to midnight ET because of the glaring sun issues and sloppy ice conditions. Then, they announced the pushback of Sunday’s Bruins-Flyers matchup from 2 p.m. ET to 7:30 p.m.
Now here we are 24 hours later. The Bruins and Flyers shouldn’t encounter as many issues upon puck drop at 4:30 local time. They’ll still have the scenic backdrop of the mountain and lake before dusk settles.
Yet, neither team won’t touch the ice surface located on the 18th hole until warmups. Some players might sneak out beforehand to get a feel of the surroundings amid an empty fan environment sans a fan or two potentially watching from their canoe.
They may have a different start time, but neither team will have a different approach for their second-ever outdoor meeting.
“People were still busy trying to get ready, and you could almost sense the buzz. And then all of a sudden the sun comes out, it’s a beautiful day, we’re walking around, and you hear that it’s postponed…What are they gonna do? How does that affect us? Are we gonna get to skate on the ice in the morning after the night game?” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said during his pregame media availability on Sunday. “At first, we thought we may be able to, but it turned out they had to do work on it. We understand all that. The most important thing is the games. So you just kind of roll with it. There’s no other way to do it.”
Saturday’s announcement provided another microcosm on conducting business in 2021. The league rescheduled numerous games because of COVID outbreaks, and that won’t change anytime soon. They’ve even encountered a few postponements because of weather, mainly with the Dallas Stars following the historic winter storm in Texas this past week.
This weekend wasn’t so much a factor of moving things around because of weather, but rather ice conditions. The glares and the chippy ice during the first period of the Vegas-Colorado matchup on Saturday forced the league’s hand. The Avalanche and Golden Knights rarely had any issues with the 200×85 playing surface once their contest resumed a little after 9 p.m. local time.
Now we’re mere hours from faceoff featuring two East Division rivals who traveled over 2,600 miles each just for this matchup.
“Apparently, the ice was really good later last night when [the Avalanche and Golden Knights] got out there, so that’s promising,” said forward Jack Studnicka, who will move to his natural center position with Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork flanking him on the third line on Sunday.
“We’re just really excited. It’s an awesome atmosphere and an awesome setup. So this may take away some of the pressures, and we’ll be able to go out there and do your thing and play some hockey.”
In a year where certain variables remain out of everyone’s hands, playing hockey becomes quite an accomplishment in and of itself. The off-ice events leading to Sunday’s unique matchup will finally take a back seat come puck drop.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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