They had seen pictures and digital renderings of what an ice rink on a golf course just off the south shore of Lake Tahoe would look like, but the Colorado Avalanche players finally got to view the setup themselves and soak it in for the first time.
"Hard to describe really," said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. "It's a really cool feeling. Obviously the surroundings kind of speak for themselves, you see that in pictures, but it really doesn't do it justice."
Colorado arrived in Northern Nevada just before sunset on Thursday evening, but the team didn't get its first look at the rink and surrounding scenery until the following morning when it was scheduled for a practice on the manmade sheet. The Avs skated for roughly 30 minutes just before noon local time in their final on-ice session before taking on the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday at 1 p.m. MT in the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe event.
The players couldn't wait to see the rink setup on the 18th fairway of the Edgewood Tahoe Resort golf course in Stateline, Nevada, and many of them wandered over to the "arena" early while the Golden Knights were holding their own pre-game practice.
"I think it's refreshing for the guys," said forward Joonas Donskoi. "A lot of the guys came early for today's practice just to see the scenery and the setup that we have here, and it's just absolutely beautiful seeing all of the views and what kind of setup we have. It's unreal. I don't know, I just feel privileged to play games like this."
Friday's practice wasn't anything too serious for the Avalanche after the team skated for nearly an hour the day before back in Denver. The session had the same structure as a morning skate for the Avs, as they did some drills to get their legs moving, worked on a little special teams and then had a little fun on the lakeside venue.
"It was a great skate this morning," said head coach Jared Bednar. "The day is actually getting nicer and nicer as it goes along. Sun came out, the temperature is nice, there is a little breeze… Just wanted the guys to get out and feel the puck and then give them a bunch of time to do some shooting and passing and kind of just have a good time and enjoy the moment here today. It's been a real good morning."
"Out there today at practice was a lot of fun," said Landeskog. "It kind of just felt like you're out there with the guys and having fun on an outdoor rink. It was a blast and looking forward to tomorrow."
Saturday's game will mark Colorado's third outdoor contest in its history and, as is tradition in these open-air spectacles, will wear a new uniform for the first time. The Avs will debut its Reverse Retro look, which features a similar design to the what the franchise wore during its time as the Quebec Nordiques, who played in the NHL from 1979-1995.
The Avalanche took a team photo with the players dressed in the full kit prior to the skate, and Bednar pointed out afterward how the guys are "looking sharp in the reverse retros."
The anticipation to see the full Nordiques-inspired uniform was nearly as high for some of the Avs as viewing the rink setup, and they got their first glimpse when they entered their makeshift locker room prior to practice.
"I mean gorgeous. We were super pumped about them," Landeskog said. "We were super excited when we kind of saw the sneak peeks earlier in the year and we got to see some pictures, but coming in, walking into the locker room today and getting to see the full uniform with socks and everything, yeah it's very special."
Colorado will wear its reverse retro uniforms five more times this season, including in Monday's game against Vegas at Ball Arena on Retro Night.
As for Saturday's contest, playing an official NHL game in as natural of a setting as possible, that might be once in a lifetime.
"I've been to Tahoe two or three times when I was playing with [the San Jose Sharks]; we used to come here for Christmas," Donskoi said. "I've been on the lake a couple times before too. Never did I think that we would play here one day."