When the Capitals arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday, the conditions weren’t exactly conducive for outdoor hockey. There can be no puck drop amid a rainy forecast with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 60s, but luckily for the Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, the weather outlook for Saturday evening’s Stadium Series is much improved.
The rain is expected to clear up with temperatures closer to freezing by the time the two teams suit up and take the ice at Carter-Finley Stadium. Even so, the NHL’s facility operations team will be working tirelessly over the next 30 hours to ensure the rink is ready to host 60 minutes of professional hockey.
Most of the Capitals’ active players traveling to Raleigh have played in NHL outdoor games before and understand how the conditions are different from a typical indoor contest. They’ll all get the chance for a practice skate Friday evening to get a sense of the state of the ice and how it affects their ability to skate.
“The first time we played in Pittsburgh it was raining, it was wet and it was really tough that way,” winger Marcus Johansson said. “You never know so it’s kind of part of the fun too, I guess. Just have to prepare the best way we can and I feel like we’re going to skate the day before and get a feel for the ice so it should be fun.”
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The 2023 Stadium Series game will mark the fourth time in the Capitals’ franchise history they’ve played in an outdoor game after they participated in the 2011 Winter Classic (Heinz Field), 2015 Winter Classic (Nationals Park) and 2018 Stadium Series (Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium). Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom are the lone participants of that 2011 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins who will be active Saturday.
Center Lars Eller has played in three different outdoor games including two early in his career with the Montreal Canadiens. He was glad the NHL scheduled Saturday’s game at night, which takes the potential for the sun to melt the ice or add extra glare.
“I think the lights won't be a big factor because there probably won't be any sun out,” Eller said. “The sun will be down. So the only games I’ve played it's been midday and it's been sunny. So, yeah, the ice and temperature, that's the biggest things.”
However, the later game time will make for colder conditions than that are typical for an NHL games. It’s certainly chilly in NHL arenas, but the regulated atmosphere ensures plyers aren’t feeling too frigid down on the ice. Center Dylan Strome experienced those conditions when he played in the 2019 Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium while with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think the one thing I noticed was throughout the game it got colder, like way colder,” Strome said. “Your gear in an arena, your body temperature regulates a little bit better and then when you're outside you're sweating and by the third period everyone's gear is wet and everyone's undershirts are wet and it gets cold. So I think that was one thing I remember sticking out to me. I'm never cold in a hockey game, but that time I was.”