At the Nevada-California border, surrounded by mountains and on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, the Colorado Avalanche practiced in the open air on Friday.
It was the only time that the team will be on the outdoor rink before competing against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday afternoon in the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe event.
The weekend matinee will be the third-straight meeting between Colorado and Vegas and the clubs have split the first two matchups, both one-goal contests. Vegas won 1-0 on Sunday before Colorado picked up a 3-2 victory at T-Mobile Arena, but Saturday's outing will very likely feature a different lineup for the Avs.
Defenseman Cale Makar could return to game action after missing two games with an upper-body injury, while Matt Calvert, Samuel Girard, Tyson Jost and Gabriel Landeskog could also return from their recent absences. Calvert has been out for Colorado's past seven games with an upper-body injury, and Girard, Jost and Landeskog have been sidelined while in the league's COVID protocol.
"Makar will be a game-time decision for us, but all the other guys, the COVID guys that were out under protocol are all eligible to play, including Sam Girard," said head coach Jared Bednar. "But I am not announcing our lineup yet today, you guys will just have to wait and see I guess."
Calvert, Jost and Landeskog all skated with the team at practice in Denver on Thursday while Girard was on the ice with his teammates for the first time on Friday.
Despite missing seven players that were on its opening night roster in the first two matchups with the Golden Knights, the Avalanche was still able to leave Southern Nevada splitting the four points that were up for grabs.
"I liked the two games that we just played in Vegas, we came up short in one and were able to squeak out a win in the other one, they were two hard-fought games," said Bednar. "I think we've seen a little bit of everything, the speed, the talent on both teams, I think we saw some great goaltending in both those games and we still have two more against them. This one's obviously in a great setting and will be an exciting game here in Tahoe and then they are coming to us at Ball Arena. We are halfway through this series, I think it's been as expected for me as a coach.
"I think both games probably could have went either way and now we have two more to go but I like the challenge that they provide for our team. [Vegas is] a real good opponent and I like to see how we are going to elevate our game and be able to play with these guys, and we'll get a little bit of a different look with our lineup tomorrow with some guys coming back in. They added [Shea] Theodore in last game, so I think we will probably see the best two games of the series coming up here yet."
The two points on the line could prove to be huge at the end of the season in the West Division standings. Vegas is currently second in the division with 21 points while Colorado is third with 17, but the Avs have a game in hand.
"They are a great team; I think our whole division is really good honestly. Every game we play is tough. It's hard defensive hockey, guys grind and there is kind of a playoff feel throughout the whole season, so I think that's great for us," said Nathan MacKinnon. "I think we were missing like seven guys the last couple games--we have some more guys back tomorrow and then Monday again when we play them. They are a really tough team to play against, they have high-end skill, there's no weaknesses."
Photo Gallery: Outdoor Practice
REVERSE RETRO DEBUT
One of the unique aspects of the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe event is that all four teams participating in the weekend (also the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers) will each wear their adidas Reverse Retro jerseys in their contests in the open air. The Reverse Retro jerseys represent unique and historical moments in each club's history, while refreshing the color and design combination for an all-new presentation.
Colorado's reverse retro jersey blends both the past and present as it is based on the uniform the organization wore during its time in Quebec City as the Nordiques. The crest features the iconic Nordiques igloo logo, modernized in the Avalanche's color scheme. The hem showcases the return of the fleur-de-lis symbol, modeled from Quebec's provincial flag, with a fleur-de-lis patch also placed on the shoulders.
One of the few Reverse Retro jerseys in white, the sweater is a nod to the snow found in both northern Quebec and the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the franchise's two homes.
The Avs got to don the reverse retro look for the first time prior to Friday's practice for a team picture on the ice, and Colorado's captain Gabriel Landeskog had one word to describe the setup.
"Gorgeous," said Landeskog. "We are super pumped about them and we were super excited when we kind of saw the sneak peaks 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 it's very special.
"The Avalanche organization is a proud organization, but we never forget our past as well. A lot of great players coming out of the Quebec Nordiques organization and we know the fan base is very passionate as well there. Very special for us to be able to honor the past in a way, at least [by] wearing the beautiful uniforms in a little different way."
Gabriel Landeskog on the scenery around the rink: "Hard to describe really. 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 that justice. Once you're on the ice, I've said this before, it's probably the purest form of hockey and being outdoors and obviously the elements, the wind and the sun comes into play. All of a sudden, the sun comes up and you can barely see the puck. It's going to be a lot of fun. I think we're expecting some snow tonight, so it should be a pretty cool scene tomorrow."
Landeskog on practicing in the sun: "It was fine, I have tried the eye-black before and it hasn't really helped me much, and this year I just tried a tinted visor, and I don't know if that really made a difference either. I think the best part would be if we all play with sunglasses tomorrow, I think that would be pretty helpful, but I don't think we're going to be able to do that. Nonetheless, I don't know if we are expecting sun tomorrow or not, but today was a beautiful day so at times it got a little tricky and the sweat kind of running down into your eyes, but it's all a part of it. It's what makes these events so great. It's a little bit different and not really what we are used to, but it usually turns out to be a pretty fun event and a fun game to watch."
Nathan MacKinnon on the sunny practice day in Lake Tahoe: "I wish it wasn't so beautiful out honestly. I wish it was dark and cloudy and colder, the ice would be a little bit better. It's a little sunny so it was a little soft, but it wasn't too bad. It's kind of cool with the outdoor elements, and hopefully it holds up tomorrow and we can start on time and finish up. We are going to play our hardest and see what happens and have fun. It's a regular-season game, it means a lot, but obviously we are going to try to enjoy the experience as well."
Joonas Donskoi on the experience: "I've actually been to Tahoe I think two or three times; when I was playing for San Jose we used to come here for Christmas. I have been on this lake a couple times before too, never did I think that we would play here one day so it's kind of crazy. Practicing today, we played an outdoor game last year so we know the ice might not be the best, but it is what it is. Also the sun, it's really bright so it's kind of hard to see but its good we got this practice today to kind of see what it's like and get ready for tomorrow."