ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 23, 2018)—The National Hockey League has started construction on the rink for the first NHL game to be played at a service academy, and the 25th outdoor game since 2003.
The Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs will both play in their third outdoor game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the home of United States Naval Academy football, on March 3.
In the 58-year history of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, "this will be the largest professional event ever held here," said United States Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Walter E. "Ted" Carter.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the one word to describe the ability to play an outdoor game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is "iconic."
"Being able to work with the Naval Academy as closely as we have to bring this game here has really been a fantastic partnership," Daly said.
The task of transforming the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium football field into a hockey rink belongs to the NHL's senior manager of facilities operations and hockey operations, Derek King. He explained that to build the rink, he and his 16 ice crew members will take what the weather gives them over the next week and a half.
"We'll adjust our schedule," said King. "So if we're going to get 70-degree weather during the day, we won't do any ice-making during the day."
The ice-making process is scheduled to start Thursday night, according to Jeff Day, the coordinator for event communications and player development at National Hockey League.
For the players, former Capitals forward Peter Bondra said, they'll find ways to adjust to the elements.
"The weather might be (an) issue, but the guys are professionals," Bondra said. "There are trainers, equipment managers to help the players to sort of adjust to the conditions."
Bondra, who played for the Caps from 1990 until 2004, will participate in an alumni fantasy game on the rink the following day.
Making a pro-level hockey rink outdoors in what has been a string of spring-like days in the region can be a challenge, but the NHL used its technical expertise to make an outdoor game possible in Los Angeles.
To build a rink that complies with NHL standards, King and his construction crew use a mobile refrigeration unit and rink system that removes as much heat from the ice surface as possible.
That unit shunts nearly 3,000 gallons of coolant into custom-made trays that are located under the rink, keeping it at the 22-degree Fahrenheit temperature needed to maintain the playing surface.
After the boards and brackets are put into place and the right surface temperature is reached, water is misted onto the surface in layers, adding up to two inches of ice. Carter called that ice-building process a "technological marvel."
Regardless of the temperature, this is a game players get excited for, Bondra said.
"If I was a player, I would definitely circle the calendar," he said.
Added to the excitement of playing outdoors and playing at a military academy is a budding rivalry between the two teams, Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan said.
"Toronto's in the East and it's a good rivalry now since we had a playoff series with them last year," said MacLellan.
In tight races in both the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions, the Capitals and the Maple Leafs each hope to come away with two standings points to gain separation from rivals.