Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena is to become the first Southern Hemisphere venue to play host to the National Hockey League (NHL) later this year.
The home of the Australian Open will stage preseason games between Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings in the 2023 NHL Global Series – Melbourne on September 23 and 24.
The Coyotes and Kings will skate on a rink the NHL will construct with many of the same parts used for outdoor games. The 15,000-capacity venue’s retractable roof will remain closed.
The NHL said the Australian fixtures will be one of the boldest moves it has made to grow the game and one of the most difficult projects it has pulled off logistically. It comes on the back of growing interest in the game in Australia.
“The intention would not be to come to Australia, play and never come back,” said David Proper, NHL senior executive vice president, media and international strategy. “The intention is to make this a recurring set of games and help continue to grow hockey in the market.”
The trip will be the farthest the NHL has trekked from North America after playing often in Europe and making a few forays to Asia. Australia represents its fourth continent.
The NHL said it sees potential in Melbourne and has extensive experience adapting to unique venues overseas and outdoors. It said this will be a product of almost a decade of discussions and more than a year of planning.
Rod Laver Arena was built to house a tennis court, which is much smaller than a hockey rink. However, one end of the stands is retractable, allowing just enough room for a regulation NHL ice surface.
While the NHL usually pumps glycol from a Mobile Refrigeration Unit to create ice for its tentpole events, it will use a system developed by a Dutch company called Ice World in Melbourne. The NHL will put down a layer of plywood over the tennis court. Instead of putting aluminium pans on top of that, the League will use Ice World’s system. Pipes will sit inside a rubber liner, which will be filled with water. After freezing an initial base of about 1 inch of ice, the NHL will build the ice much the same way it does for an outdoor game, painting it white, laying lines and logos made of fabric, and using a spray boom to mist fine layers to water to ensure a dense, thick sheet.
“We don’t jump into any of this stuff without doing a fair amount of research and making sure that this makes sense,” Proper said. “Everything that we’re seeing is that this a good market for us and a market that is just going to be a lot of fun for the NHL and its players and hopefully for the fan base in Australia.”