The 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings at Levi's Stadium on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2) is not only considered a pivotal regular-season showdown, but an event that will resonate with fans and players for quite some time.
Playing a prominent role in that process are Populous and Infinite Scale, the architecture and graphic firms responsible for the many design elements surrounding the rink that will pay tribute to the wide-ranging topography unique to Northern California.
Populous senior associate Bobby Sloan believes this Stadium Series game could surpass anything ever achieved at an NHL outdoor event. Sloan would know, since he has been the lead architect technician for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and NHL Stadium Series since the very beginning.
Architectural rendering of Levi's Stadium.
(Click to enlarge) Courtesy: Populous
"I can tell you, as a Sharks fan, as a San Francisco 49ers fan, you will walk into Levi's Stadium [home to the NFL's 49ers] and won't even think of a football field, it will be completely transformed," Sloan told NHL.com.
It marks the second straight year the NHL will hold an outdoor game in California. The success of the Stadium Series game between the Kings and Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium in Southern California before 54,099 fans in 63-degree weather on Jan. 25, 2014 enabled all parties involved to push the envelope even further this year in Santa Clara.
"When you walk into this facility it will be akin to what an Olympic-type event delivers," Cameron Smith, creative director at Infinite Scale, said.
"This will set a new level of what's to be expected, and not that you can pull that off every time because this is venue specific. But this will be akin to the Olympics in which the theme of the field and the application on and around it take it to places that people can relate to in Northern California."
That's something Sloan thought was certainly possible.
"The lessons learned coming out of Los Angeles [last year] was that you can transform the field and surrounding environment whether it be the landscape or culture, and start to integrate it all into the event," Sloan said. "In L.A. we had palm trees, beach volleyball and a duck pond that were representative of the whole Venice Beach area."
Levi's Stadium will be showcasing key elements of Silicon Valley, the Sierra Nevada, Santa Clara Valley, the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.
"We wanted to pop up the field and make if feel like the ground is rising; there are a lot of elements introduced even though from the field, they are all two-dimensional," Alma DuSolier, Populous principal and senior landscape architect, said. "We feel that makes it unique but at the same time will not distract from the main attraction and action taking place on the rink. It'll look somewhat different than any other venue."
Sloan said there's a big difference creating a field design in California as compared to putting together a snow globe effect at venues along the East Coast in cold weather climates.
"The easy solution to giving it that snow globe effect even if it isn't a bright sunny day is with a snow blanket we would normally put down," Sloan said. "A snow globe effect playing pond hockey in the middle of Levi's Stadium in Northern California doesn't resonate, so we eliminated that idea and had to fill the field with other great ideas."
Those ideas include 3,000-plus potted plants, 6,000 square feet of ocean-like effects, 15,000 square feet of sod, and 16,000 square feet of Sierra/Nevada-looking mountaintops that are framed and constructed on site. There's fabricated rock, gravel and pebbles, several thousand plants and, of course, the huge logos for each team that will appear to be coming from the seven-foot-high mountains on the field.
"There will be real plants out there and they will be with these graphic elements on the field that have energy, light and tech to provide a Silicon Valley feel," Smith said. "It will be unlike any other NHL event that has happened."
The transformation began Feb. 9 and will continue right up until puck drop on Feb. 21, according to Sloan.
"As professionals, we're always striving to get better each time we do these games, and if you look at the pictures of the Winter Classic in Buffalo [in 2008] and go through the years, you'll see that it's gotten bigger and better," Sloan said.
While the look and feel at Levi's Stadium may be unlike any other NHL event to this point, Sloan said in no way will it take away from the most important part of the evening, the hockey game between the Sharks and Kings.
"It's a regular-season game and it means two points in the standings; it's why everyone comes," Sloan said. "What we've done around the rink just enhances the overall experience. If it were just two points, just a hockey game, it would be played in the arena, but this becomes an event being played here."
The anticipation will mount as fans pull into the parking lot, enter through the spectator plaza and then into the stadium for the first time before finally seeing the field. That, according to Sloan, is all a part of the event experience and something they want to be very special.
"We're interested in how the players react to this; that's another telling point," Smith said. "I think it'll be so different than anything they've ever been involved with and it'll be a topic of discussion as they arrive on site and begin to practice."
Sloan said there are some elements that will remain hidden right up until player introductions that will be accompanied by pyrotechnics.
"It won't all come together until the players arrive to make it magical," Sloan said.