NHL Winter Classic in Seattle has insurance policy: retractable roof

Dec 30, 2023, 4:48 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — It stands about 215 feet in the air, weighs more than 11,000 tons, covers an area of nearly nine acres and is powered by 96 10-horsepower engines moving it at the breakneck speed of 50 feet per minute.

And it’s at the crux of why the NHL felt comfortable bringing its marquee event to start the new year in a place known to be rather damp in wintertime.

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When the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken meet on Monday in the Winter Classic, the NHL hopes the story is centered on the clash between the league’s two newest franchises, one of which happens to be the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

But bringing the game to the Pacific Northwest meant relying on a mechanical structure the league hopes won’t be needed on the day of the game but has proven invaluable in protecting the rink in the leadup to the event — the retractable roof of T-Mobile Park.

That’s part of the story, too.

“I think it’s a good story and it’s part of the story of Seattle,” NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said. “This is a place that has a little rain.”

The game Monday will be the 39th outdoor game the NHL has conducted. And they have every intent of it being a truly outdoor game, even with the possible protection provided by playing in the retractable roof stadium.

For now, the forecast seems to be in the NHL’s favor. After a stretch of wet days, the weather on game-day looks to be a mix of sun and clouds with temperatures in the mid-40s.

But it’s the leadup to the game where the roof that allows the Seattle Mariners to play baseball games protected from the region’s notorious rain and drizzle has proven invaluable in the process of building a hockey rink.

For previous outdoor games, the league has built contingencies into the construction schedule in case weather became an issue. In Seattle, those contingencies remained, but were mostly not needed. The roof remained closed for the process of building the rink and all the associated elements that come with putting on a hockey game in a baseball stadium.

“We always leave some room in there if we get a really bad rain day or something like that, especially when we start building the ice,” said Dean Matsuzaki, the NHL’s executive vice president of events who has been involved with every outdoor NHL game since the first Winter Classic in 2008. “But this we were able to really schedule with a lot of confidence kind of right down to the hour everything that we’ll be able to get done.”

The NHL wanted to reward Seattle for how the city and region instantly latched onto the Kraken by brining the Winter Classic to the area. From the start, playing the game at T-Mobile Park was the preferred option because the roof existed, even though Lumen Field has a larger capacity and better sightlines, and Husky Stadium provided a more picturesque setting on the shore of Lake Washington.

While the goal for Monday is the roof to be retracted, it’s a multiprong process in making the final call. The league consults with a local meteorologist in the days leading up to the game and the morning of. There will be regular communication with executives from the league and the NHLPA as the game draws closer, including about two hours before puck drop when final decisions are made.

In a worst-case scenario should the forecast change and rain become an issue, the NHL could opt to have a panel of the retractable roof cover the ice while leaving the rest of the stadium exposed for a modified open-air experience. The T-Mobile Park roof was constructed in sections, meaning only part of the stadium can be covered. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.

The only other time the league played one of its stadium events in a building with a retractable roof came in 2014 up the road in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a Heritage Classic game between the Canucks and Ottawa Senators. But a mix of rain and snow led to the roof of BC Place never being opened.

It was a stadium game, but not an outdoor game and it lacked the feel the league wanted. That’s why while the roof has been crucial in the build-up, the NHL wants Monday’s event to be played without the umbrella over the top.

“The NHL does an amazing job and each year it gets better and better,” Kraken forward Jared McCann said Thursday after getting his first look at the setup. “And obviously, we have the facility here with T-Mobile and the roof and everything to host something much more special and we’re going to try and make the most of it.”

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NHL Winter Classic in Seattle has insurance policy: retractable roof