Are hockey and skating unrivaled when hosted outdoors?
“I think you wrapped it up right there. Just write that: ‘Hockey in its purest form,’” answered Preds forward Craig Smith after he was posed with the above question.
A Wisconsin native, Smith, like many of his teammates, is used to the cold winters of the northern United States and Canada - geographical environments conducive to the conditions which helped hockey and ice skating originate in North America hundreds of years ago. Following Nashville’s practice on Friday, to a man, the Predators asked to recall childhood memories from skating under the sky said there’s nothing better.
“Even if you’re only skating, it’s still incredible to be outside,” Smith said. “I just remember it being extremely quiet out there. You’re just moving around, and I always feel like I’m skating faster when I’m outside.
“It’s a different atmosphere, the world is going on around you. You can see it all happening, it’s just really neat. Especially when it’s at night and you can get the lights shining on you too, it’s like a baseball field covered in ice under the lights.”
For many Middle Tennessean Predators fans, however, skating outdoors is traditionally unfeasible. Whether due to Nashville’s climate or the lack of freezing temperatures for any prolonged period of time; hockey, in its purest form, remains elusive. But for fans who have always wanted to feel the open air as they glide along on a frozen sheet, the chance has arrived.
In association with the upcoming 2016 NHL® All-Star Weekend in January, the NHL and Nashville Local Organizing Committee will officially open the IntelliCentrics Ice Rink this Saturday afternoon prior to the Predators contest that evening against the Avalanche. The rink, part of Bridgestone Winter Park, will be open through All-Star Weekend, which culminates on Jan. 31 with the 2016 NHL® All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena.
Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette grew reminiscent when discussing the rink at Winter Park and the one several hundred miles northeast he used to frequent while growing up in Massachusetts:
“My family owned a grocery store and my grandfather lived next door and there was a pond behind the grocery store,” Laviolette said. “It looked like a rink, it was double the size of a rink, but the same shape. My grandfather put a telephone pole down there and hung some lights off of it and we would literally go out on that pond on a Saturday, we’d get there at 9 in the morning and he would start flicking the lights at 10 o’clock at night and you had five minutes to get out of there. If you weren’t out in five minutes, you had to climb that hill up to the parking lot at the grocery store in the dark and it was a treacherous climb, so everybody scrambled when the lights started to flicker. But I spent hours and hours playing outdoor hockey.
“That’s where most of the kids spent their time. There was less to do, there were less [video games] and computers and electronics and kids going a million different directions now; back then, you were looking for something to do and why not go out and play pond hockey all day? You found so many kids on the ponds just having fun, and that’s the greatest thing about pond hockey. It’s not about referees, it’s not about stress, it’s not about having to win or lose, it’s just about having fun.”
The IntelliCentrics Ice Rink at Bridgestone Winter Park carries a similar goal to the Laviolette’s pond. The desire to provide enjoyment to skaters and hockey players alike by allowing the chance to play on a pond-sized rink outdoors. That’s an experience that’s meant so much to Preds players and their head coach over the years.
“There’s nothing better than being outside, that’s basically where I learned to skate at a rink next to my house. There’s just nothing like it,” winger Eric Nystrom said.
“It’s going to be pretty cool, and I had a chance to play in the first NHL outdoor game so it’s always fun to be outside and it’s totally different,” center Mike Ribeiro said of the IntelliCentrics Ice Rink. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people who will be skating on it, and I think it’s just nice to be outside and experience it.”