The Colorado Avalanche last played an outdoor game four years ago when it faced the Detroit Red Wings in front of 50,000-plus fans at Coors Field in the 2016 NHL Stadium Series, but a few players on the current team have more recent memories of skating in one of the league's unique events.
On March 3, 2018, Andre Burakovsky Philipp Grubauer< took the ice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the Washington Capitals while now teammate Nazem Kadri was on the opposing team with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL's first outdoor contest held at a service academy. The Avs' open-air game against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 15 at the U.S. Air Force Academy will be the league's second at a military institution.
Amid the excitement of fireworks, marching midshipmen and a rink flanked by a model fighter jet, Burakovsky and Grubauer's Capitals beat Kadri's Maple Leafs 5-2 in the 2018 Stadium Series in Annapolis, Maryland. The victory punctuated one of the more unforgettable experiences in their careers.
"Definitely something you want to do in your career because it is special," said Burakovsky, who was with Washington for the 2015 Winter Classic but didn't play in that game. "It's kind of how everyone starts playing hockey [as a kid], like street hockey or on the frozen pond. So it's kind of the same--just a little bit of a crowd [this time]."
"I feel like these kinds of games are a little more intimate," said Kadri, who is now preparing for his fourth outdoor game when the Avs face the Kings. "No matter how big the crowd is, I feel like everyone is more emotionally invested. And that's no different for the players."
The Capitals took an early command of the game, rushing out to a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period. Kadri cut the deficit to one midway through the second frame for the Leafs, but Washington responded with two quick goals to build an insurmountable three-score advantage heading into the final period.
"It's a little bit tougher of a game because the ice isn't as great and you're playing outside so it's cold," Burakovsky said. "But it's definitely an experience for life."
Grubauer didn't compete in the game as he was the backup netminder to starter Branden Holtby, but the current Avs' goalie reminisced fondly of the entire affair. From the family skate to the idea of hockey played in crisp air, Grubauer appreciated the rare experience in its entirety.
"A game outside doesn't happen too many times," Grubauer said. "It's really a special event for everyone, for the family, for the players, for the fans. So we're really looking forward to that. It's how the sport was created, it started outdoors. It should be exciting."
Asked about their favorite part of the pre-game ceremony, Grubauer and Burakovsky both said the flyover, without hesitation.
"By far," Grubauer said. "I think it gave everyone goosebumps. We were thinking in that moment how we were grateful to have this opportunity to play outside, to be on the ice and enjoy this moment. The flyover was by far the coolest."
Added Burakovsky, detailing the scene: "It was really dark outside. You could hear the planes from far away coming closer, but you could only see the small lights. You couldn't really see them, but it was so loud. The whole stadium was shaking. I think the flyover was sick. It's just really cool."
While Kadri's team was on the wrong end of the scoresheet at Navy, the spectacle and significance of the event weren't lost on the veteran. That this particular one was the first military-themed game made it all the more special.
"It was a nice little tribute to everyone who's served," said Kadri. "I think a lot of soldiers who were a part of the military and the Navy were at the game. So that was also cool, and I think that they had a whole section. We paid our respects, they got to watch a good hockey game, and it was a great event."