Friday February 13th, 2015

The NHL hasn’t quite gone as far as having live sharks swim in circles around the outdoor rink at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium for Saturday evening’s Stadium Series game (10 p.m. EST; NBCSN, CNC, TVA2) between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, but Don Renzulli, the league's executive vice president of events, tells they have come up with something plenty cool in its own right.

As Renzulli and the rest of the events staff convert a nearly brand-new NFL stadium—the home of the San Francisco 49ers—they will create an ambiance around the outdoor rink that pays homage to California while tying stadium seats to the ice.

“I think the thing we look at it is how we decorate the remaining area around the rink,” Renzulli says about taking on a new outdoor stadium design for each new venue.

While baseball stadiums offer up oceans of space to deal with in the outfield, the outdoor rinks in football stadiums land in the middle, giving the NHL 360 degrees to deal with around the sides. “Here, we want to minimize the space around the rink to make it look like it fits within the stadium,” he says.

And to get there, the NHL is channeling all sorts of native California landscape. The league will bring in 1,500 to 2,000 native plants to place around the field. As you’d see in set design, expect rock formations—made of wood and then covered—to mimic the natural landscape of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (although these rock formations will have team logos built in). Real grass and sod will undulate. And areas of water will replicate to some degree the Pacific Ocean.

“We are doing something we have never done, trying to replicate the look of Northern California,” Renzulli says. “What you’ll see on the field is something nobody has seen, especially in a stadium.”

The musical entertainment aspect of the game will come from two stages built into this natural landscape, one at either end zone behind the nets. The stages will host musical acts John Fogerty, Melissa Etheridge, Kris Allen and Symphony Silicon Valley before the game, for the national anthem and during each intermission. (

Having already held an outdoor game in Los Angeles, the NHL is keenly aware of the needs of making ice and staging an outdoor game in California.

When it comes to making the rink, Renzulli says they will build it and create it the same as they do for any outdoor stadium. Since it is California, though, the ice will be made at night and thermal blankets will reflect the sun away from it during the day. With the game played after the sun goes down, the NHL won’t have to worry about glare interfering with play.

With Levi’s Stadium so new, the NHL is tapping into the digital infrastructure already in place, rebranding the stadium’s app for their own, allowing fans to buy parking passes, food and merchandise from it. They can get video replays in-stadium and will be able to link their mobile devices to activate and create a synchronized, colorful special effect during the musical performances. Fogerty will be accompanied by a laser show while he performs during the first intermission.

“It is similar to what they do for a football game,” Renzulli says. “We are going to do it for a hockey game. We want to take advantage of everything we can here.”

Just don’t expect live sharks.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb

GALLERY: The NHL Outdoors

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