A look inside T-Mobile Park, where preparation for 2024 Winter Classic is running smoothly


SEATTLE — Praise the roof.

A hockey rink is taking shape in T-Mobile Park, construction humming along without concerns of weather delays thanks to the retractable roof. The site of the 2024 NHL Winter Classic that pits the Vegas Golden Knights against the Kraken on Jan. 1 will be almost fully ready Dec. 30, leaving one day for last-second tweaks.

"We'd like to bring this to every stadium, every place we go from now on," NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said of the retractable cover.

Everything is running so on time, Mayer said Thursday, that the crew of approximately 200 outdoor-game veterans assembling it can take off both Christmas Eve and Day — which is not always the case.

The roof is doing its part to protect their progress. The hope is to have it open in the days leading up to the game, including a practice day, so the players can make note of the sight lines. And when Jan. 1 rolls around, it's slunk back into storage, job well done.

"We're going to pray a little bit, but we want to keep the roof open, because we want this to be a true outdoor game," Mayer said. "That's the greatest experience."

The rink's boards went up Thursday, to be followed by benches and penalty boxes. The base of the performance stage, which rock band Heart will grace during the first intermission, was sitting in the outfield.

There's supposed to be ice before everyone departs for the holiday, but it won't look like a hockey rink yet. Lines and logos will come later. Signage is blooming daily inside and outside the building, and on the dugouts — home for the Kraken, visitors for the Golden Knights, of course.

Soon there will be skates clomping down the stairs of the Mariners' clubhouse, or perhaps the steep ramp if they're feeling dangerous.

Each stadium setup comes with its own challenges, and access has been one at the Mariners' ballpark. The rail line behind center field makes the room for load-ins very tight, said NHL executive VP of events Dean Matsuzaki. Some of what is usually driven in has had to be rolled in.

They also had to acquire a permit to put the ice plant on a sidewalk alongside South Royal Brougham Way in order to run the ice pipes in through the concourse and the bullpen. As much as 3,000 gallons of glycol coolant are pumped into custom-made aluminum trays. The glycol chills the trays in order to keep the ice near 22 degrees. The ice can be up to 2 inches thick — at least a half-inch more than it would be in an NHL arena — allowing it to withstand the elements.

The league has this formula mostly down, as Seattle will host the 15th Winter Classic and 39th outdoor game.

Warm temperatures wouldn't necessarily be a problem, as with the 2020 Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas — which Kraken defenseman Jamie Oleksiak took part in — was championed as a success. But too much rain and sun have both delayed games.

The views and weather were too gorgeous at Lake Tahoe during a weekend of outdoor games in 2021. The sun bore down on the rink and made it choppy near center ice, and there were several spills. In consultation with the players' union, the NHL decided to postpone a game between the Colorado Avalanche and Golden Knights for more than eight hours. It was paused after the first period, around 1 p.m., and resumed just after 9 p.m., bumped off NBC and onto NBCSN. Lessons learned, the game the next day was postponed in advance.

"We've done over 30 outdoor games," commissioner Gary Bettman told NBC at the time. "This has been the most difficult weather circumstance we've had, and it's a beautiful day."

At puck drop at the 2022 NHL Winter Classic in Minnesota, it was minus-5.7 degrees, the coldest NHL game ever. Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues players sported frozen facial hair.

It wasn't delayed, but a counterintuitive adjustment had to be made. Before the game, the league said the ice had to be heated. "When the air temperature is above the optimum ice temperature, the glycol and aluminum pans transfer heat away from the ice. But when the air temperature is below the optimum ice temperature, it transfers heat to the ice," NHL.com wrote.

The 2014 NHL Heritage Classic took place at BC Place in Vancouver. There was light snowfall overnight and rain on the day. It was announced hours before the game that the roof of BC Place would stay closed for the duration. Matsuzaki attributed that decision to worries of accumulated, residual precipitation falling and causing issues.

The most harrowing setup might have been before a 2018 game at Navy — Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. Wind gusts in the area reached 70 mph. Construction had to shut down and the site was damaged. The show — briefly halted by a power outage — went on.

The long-range forecast Jan. 1 in Seattle is for temperatures in the mid-40s with showers. They'll work with that.

The game falls about halfway through the Kraken's third season of play. This is defending-champion Vegas' second outdoor appearance. Three of 32 NHL teams have been around since the outdoor games began in 2003 and still haven't gotten the nod.

"I'm sure there are a few other teams in the league that are wondering how we got this game here so quickly," Matsuzaki said. "We were saying for these two new franchises in the league, to get a game here and help engage the fan bases, it's wonderful."

Working with Seattle-based design firm Hotopp, the league made the field design scream "PNW." Mayer said there will be areas of actual water, and a rendering showed docks, maps and nautical disasters.

The raised seats in T-Mobile Park have allowed them to introduce "pieces that we're not able to do in other places," ones that would block some fans' views in other cities. The boathouse, where the TNT broadcast crew will be, and a shipwreck, which is part of the main entertainment stage, are some such additions.

"We hope that we do the folks that live here in Seattle proud, because we are showing this city off to the world," Mayer said.