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Lake Tahoe’s majestic setting welcomes Golden Knights

STATELINE

It is the second deepest lake in the United States, resting in wonderment as it separates Nevada and California.

Which means if a wayward hockey puck finds itself splashing into Lake Tahoe on Saturday, it’s likely lost to the elements.

Believe me — the water is close enough for it to occur.

The beauty is more than 22 miles long and over 12 miles wide, while the shoreline stretches beyond 71 miles. But for this narrative, think the fairway of a par-5 18th hole at one of the more picturesque golf courses the world knows.

This is where the NHL has brought its annual outdoors game, in which the Golden Knights will play the Colorado Avalanche in the third straight meeting between the two best teams in the West. The first two matchups were at T-Mobile Arena.

Um … this is different.

“It’s awe-inspiring”

When he was growing up in Dunnville, Ontario, a small town an hour west of Buffalo, New York, those fathers in Pete DeBoer’s neighborhood attempted to one-up each other by building outdoor rinks on which kids could play.

Some added lights and a scoreboard. One wasn’t so advanced.

“My buddies had a backyard rink with a giant oak tree in the middle of it, so we had to skate around,” said DeBoer, the Golden Knights’ coach. “I didn’t see any of that out there (Friday), so we have avoided any trees in the middle of the rink we could potentially run into. But the backdrop of the tree line to the lake is beautiful.

“You have to see it to believe it. The pictures don’t do it justice. This is a drop-the-mic type outdoor rink. It’s the nicest I have ever seen. It’s awe-inspiring.”

COVID-19 made it impossible for spectators to attend, meaning the league thought entirely outside the box when deciding to raise a rink on the same track as the American Century Celebrity Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

DeBoer is correct. No illustration can aptly describe the surroundings. I’m not sure goalies on the rink’s south end will be able to focus on many shots, their vision to the north a collection of massive pine trees leading to a long stretch of lake with a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

First team to 10 goals wins?

“We need to keep things simple and not stare at the mountains,” Knights forward Reilly Smith said. “During practice, you just wanted to take a step back and soak in what was going on. If we were allowed to, we would have stayed out there all day.”

The entire setup has a rustic feel, from wood paneled structures just off the rink to the winds that whipped through the fairway. Players said the ice was a tad sticky and that might slow the pace Saturday, intriguing in that you’re talking about two of the league’s fastest teams. It rained some. The sun came out at one point, making the ice sparkle and things tough to see.

Nobody is complaining.

Twain’s imagery

“At last the lake burst upon us — a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still!” Mark Twain wrote in “Roughing It,” the author more intertwined with this region than anyone else in history. “As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”

That was 1872.

On Friday, as their practice neared its end, a few Golden Knights players tried their hand at flipping souvenir pucks into the water just outside a hockey rink built on a golf course.

And in that moment, if you glanced east across the lake, the most striking of rainbows hugged the snow-capped mountains that Twain chronicled long ago.

As if this place isn’t majestic enough.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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