How the NHL brought Avalanche-Kings hockey to Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy

COLORADO SPRINGS — Snow fell the day first moving trucks passed through Air Force Academy security gates to begin an ambitious process of transforming Falcon Stadium from a college football field into a professional ice hockey rink.

Hundreds of workers braved waves of powder around the clock over nearly two weeks to construct the final product. And Saturday night, a near-sellout crowd will take it all in as the Avalanche and Kings meet in an outdoor showcase celebrating the sport’s proud history.

But establishing and maintaining world-class ice standards with Mother Nature in the picture can prove difficult.

After snowing throughout last week, the temperature in Colorado Springs reached 50 degrees Friday. At 6 p.m. Saturday at puck drop, the forecast is for temperatures in the low-30s with partly cloudy skies.

But go ahead and wait five minutes. The forecast could change.

Mike Craig, the NHL’s senior manager of facility/hockey operations, remains unconcerned. Rain, snow or shine, he’s confident the ice will hold up Saturday night.

“There are a lot of people involved and a lot of effort, time and energy to make this happen,” Craig said. “It’s a good feeling.”

Hyoung Chang, The Denver PostCrews are moving snow from the stands during the ongoing buildout of the NHL Stadium Series outdoor game at Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. The Colorado Avalanche will play the Los Angeles Kings at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 15.

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Crews began to lay flooring over the artificial grass surface Feb. 3, and centered at midfield beneath the ice rink, custom-made aluminum trays were placed and connected through a series of hoses to a 53-foot, 300-ton capacity mobile refrigeration unit. The massive trailer sits on the south end of the stadium and is capable of pumping as much as 3,000 gallons of glycol coolant to maintain an ideal temperature of 22 degrees.