SEATTLE (AP) — Selling the NHL on bringing the 2024 Winter Classic to the Pacific Northwest required the purchase of a protection plan — a retractable roof.
Next year’s version of the NHL’s New Year’s Day showcase will be played outdoors in Seattle with the Kraken hosting the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Park, the league announced Tuesday.
But the decision to hold the game on the West Coast for the first time required the added safety of the retractable roof at the home field of the MLB's Mariners in case Seattle's familiar winter rains decide to show up.
“We just want to pause and thank Mariners for their support because with our weather, we needed the potential for a roof and we had the perfect neighbor,” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said. “And they not only agreed to do it, they helped us sell up the league and helped us put our best foot forward.”
The NHL announced the matchup for one of its showcase events before Boston and Pittsburgh met in the 2023 installment at Fenway Park. The game between the Golden Knights and Kraken will be played on Jan. 1, 2024, bringing together the league’s two newest franchises.
Seattle previously held the expansion draft in the summer before to its debut season. It had been talked about in the past as a host for the NHL draft or an All-Star Game.
NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said bringing the Winter Classic to Seattle has been on the league's wish list since the city was awarded an expansion franchise in December 2018.
And while Husky Stadium or Lumen Field would have provided larger venues for the event, the NHL wanted the protection of the retractable roof both for the game and in the weeks leading up to the game building the rink.
“The ability to actually cover rink while we build the rink for the weeks leading up to the game, it was actually one of the determining factors to why we’re playing in the baseball stadium,” Mayer said.
Leiweke said he sees Seattle landing the Winter Classic in what will be just the third season of the franchise as a strong endorsement from the NHL.
“I think the league loves what’s happened here," Leiweke said. “I think the league is thrilled with the ongoing development of the Seattle Kraken and Seattle as a hockey marketplace. We made our case effectively and we’re thrilled. This is a big deal for us.”
The Kraken will become the 29th NHL franchise to participate in an outdoor game. Only Columbus, Florida and Arizona are yet to participate in an outdoor game.
Vegas previously took part in an outdoor game in 2021, when it faced Colorado on the shores of Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nevada.
“Next year seems like a long time away, but it's going to be exciting and you're going to feel like a kid again,” Vegas goalie Logan Thompson said.
T-Mobile Park will be the eighth different baseball stadium to host the game, joining Fenway Park, Citi Field, Target Field, Busch Stadium, Nationals Park, Citizens Bank Park and Wrigley Field.
Even when the roof is closed, the sides of the stadium remain open to the elements. The retractable roof also closes in sections that can be adjusted, which could allow the ice to be covered while keeping other parts open to the elements.
Mayer said the placement of the ice in the stadium will be dependent on how the section of the roof can be placed to provide the most protection if it's needed on the day of the game.
T-Mobile Park is also hosting the Major League Baseball All-Star Game this season on July 11, the second time the Mariners have held the event at the stadium. It's previously hosted concerts, a college bowl game for one season and WWE's WrestleMania in 2003.
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Tim Booth, The Associated Press