When the weather is right, pond hockey is maybe the best sport there is. It is especially good when the rink being played on is built specifically for hockey, instead of being placed in the middle of a huge football or baseball stadium, far away from the fans, like the NHL’s outdoor games have by necessity had to do. Outdoor hockey arenas are also much cheaper to build than indoor ones, though for obvious weather-related reasons there are very, very few of them that actually exist.
Weather of course is the big challenge in setting up an outdoor hockey league. Even with the advances in outdoor ice maintenance that have been made in recent years for the NHL, the challenge is nowhere near overcome. At the NHL’s outdoor game in Lake Tahoe last year, too much sunlight forced a 10-hour delay. At this year’s outdoor game in Minneapolis, the temperature fell to -9 celsius, and the windchill to -18. And at a number of previous outdoor games, especially those held in southern cities, keeping the ice cold required a very wasteful amount of energy. The NHL’s commissioner Gary Bettman recently said the league will no longer hold outdoor games in these cities, in order to reduce the NHL’s climate footprint.
Even if an outdoor hockey league only included cities in Canada and the northern United States, it would still have to deal with plenty of hot, sunny, and even rainy weather, especially if its season were to run not only through the winter but also include parts of the spring and fall. Building expensive retractable-roof arenas in every city (like Pittsburgh’s old ‘Igloo’ Civic Arena) will also obviously not be economically viable anytime soon. And even if you did have the money to pay for retractable roof arenas, it would still leave you playing indoors much of the time, with little to distinguish your sometimes-outdoors league from existing professional and semi-professional hockey leagues.
The solution, if there is one, may be to create a joint ice hockey and roller hockey league, capable of playing outdoors in any weather. When weather conditions are good for ice hockey, you play ice hockey. When they’re not, you play roller hockey. This also allows your league to play through the summer, which in hockey-loving cities is usually the nicest time to be outdoors. A league which mixes pond hockey games on winter days with roller hockey games on summer evenings sounds pretty good to me, though admittedly I may be biased towards the idea as a Canadian.
Oh, and if there’s a pandemic, the league won’t need to turn fans away.