Indoors or outdoors? Rain and B.C. Place's retractable roof make that the question. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
By Tim Newcomb
The deluge of heavy winter weather in the Vancouver region—more than 10 inches of snow in some areas—may have come a week too early in terms of creating some “atmosphere” for Sunday’s Heritage Classic at retractable-roof B.C. Place. But organizers of the NHL's sixth and final outdoor game of the season certainly prefer a snowless day to one that is filled with rain. After all, rain will mean closing the roof and turning a game that has been hyped for its historic link to the 1915 Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Millionaires and Ottawa Senators into nothing more than an oversized indoor regular-season contest, albeit one with sweet throwback uniforms.
Setting up home ice for the Canucks in B.C. Place, which has undergone a $500 million-plus renovation since the 2010 Olympics, demanded the tightest turnaround of all the NHL’s outdoor games. Crews couldn’t start building the rink and making ice until the B.C. Home + Garden Show wrapped up on Sunday, Feb. 23. And the NHL will have to get out fairly quick after the 1 p.m. (Pacific time) start time on Sunday, with the MLS’ Whitecaps home opener slated for Saturday, March 8.
NEWCOMB: The Making of Stadium Hockey | GALLERY: NHL's outdoor games
Crews worked in shifts around-the-clock to install the rink—setting the foundation required 243 aluminum panels placed over plywood and subflooring—plus entertainment stages and a hockey rink for kids. NHL ice guru Dan Craig is busy monitoring the progress at Chicago’s Soldier Field, which will host the final Stadium Series game of the season on Saturday evening, so his son, Mike, took over the lead duties in Vancouver.
As with any outdoor hockey game, the focus shifts to the weather as the game draws near. Dan Craig told SI.com that a facility mandate will close the roof if too much rain falls. “There’s infrastructure in there they don’t want to get wet,” he said.
But rain isn’t the only worry when ice is involved. There’s potential for a roof closure if there is too much sun. With that 1 p.m. start time, strong rays could start melting the playing surface, and glare could be a factor as it was for the Rangers-Devils game at Yankee Stadium on January 26. Weather forecasts of Sunday in Vancouver range from temperatures near or slightly below freezing with anywhere from a 20 to 40 percent chance of precipitation. The roof takes about 20 minutes to close, but a decision will be made before the drop of the game-opening puck.
No matter what the weather may be, you can expect to see some white stuff in B.C. Place, whether it's created by a snowmaking machine or by heaping fake white stuff here and there. A few natural flakes drifting down would be nicer, though.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
Workers building the rink for the 2014 Heritage Classic Game at B.C. Place. (Kevin Light/NHLI via Getty Images)