U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.--Before the Colorado Avalanche will actually play at the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Avs got the chance to test out the ice conditions both as team and with their families.
The Avs kicked off the 2020 NHL Stadium Series weekend by hitting the ice at Falcon Stadium for the first time with a 30-minute practice on Friday that was followed by the club's outdoor family skate.
"I was it was really fun. Ice was actually really good. I know it was a little bit warmer, so we expected it to be a little bit soft, but ice was actually one of the better ones I've skated on," goaltender Philipp Grubauer said of the session. "Little hard to see the puck with the sun and how it reflected off the ice, but just to be out there with the guys, it was a really special day.
"Families in town so we're really really lucky and thankful they made the journey over here and I think it's really special for them too to watch the game. They usually watch it at 3am in the morning at home so for them to be live here is I think really cool."
Video: Goalie Philipp Grubauer on sating at Air Force
The outdoor conditions were a little different than they will be when Colorado plays the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday as the sun was beaming down and many players donned eyeblack or sunglasses to help with the glare.
"That was great. Sun was very bright, if you had the wrong angle you were getting glare right in your face, you couldn't see a thing," said defenseman Ian Cole. "But it was it was fun, it was great experience. And I think everyone in here is excited to play night game tomorrow."
Falcon Stadium is 6,621 feet above sea level, more than 1300 feet higher than what the Avalanche plays at normally at Pepsi Center in Denver.
"Yeah I mean the extra 1000 feet was quite the difference to be honest with you," said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog. "You think that you are playing at altitude but coming out here, we were sucking wind out there, it was hard. But at the end of the day it is going to be a blast. These games you sort of play on adrenaline, I remember last time we played it was sort of you are nervous, you are excited and you just kind of go out there and play."
Before the practice began, the players got to walk around the field and see how the football field was transformed into a setting where an NHL game can get take place.
The Air Force Academy's 66-year history inspired the field design and décor surrounding the rink and it features the first ever F16 Thunderbird aircraft.
"I want to know how they got that in there because honestly, I was looking at it I'm like, I don't think that fits through that little hole they got in the stands," said rookie defenseman Cale Makar. "So, no, I mean it's cool. I love all that type of stuff about Air Force and airplanes.
"It's a more intimate stadium than you'd find for I guess most football stadiums. So I think it's going to be a great viewing experience for fans. It's going to be awesome and no, I'm excited to see that atmosphere."
Video: Cale Makar on being at the Air Force Stadium Series
More than 1,000 cadets will take part in the pregame and intermission festivities with many sitting in chairs on the field during the contest, making it the first-ever NHL outdoor game to have spectators on the playing field.
"Some really nice touches all around the venue and it looks great," said J.T. Compher. "They did a great job with where the cadets will sit tomorrow, I thought that part was very cool. Having them where we walk out and right kind of on the glass, that will be a nice part."
All of the festivities that will surround the game are bound to be remarkable and make it a memorable weekend.
"I just think it's a fun event, it is almost like a team building event," said Nathan MacKinnon. "We are never really together the night before a game at home. It is fun, family and friends are involved."
"It's one of those things is not just the game, the two points are super important, don't get me wrong, but the family skate, get practice here, get everybody together," Landeskog added. "We have a team dinner tonight with everybody families and whatnot. So just another opportunity for everybody to get together and get to know one another even better. We got a lot of new guys on the team and new families on the team that haven't gotten to spend too much time together. So just in terms of that it's more than just a game for us in my opinion. It is one of those things you can grow closer from experiences like this."
Video: Gabriel Landeskog at the Air Force Stadium Series