Levi's Stadium

Levi’s Stadium’s next turf challenge: NHL Stadium Series ice rink

The highs and lows of Levi’s Stadium have been well-chronicled on BASG throughout the 49ers’ debut season at their new home. Since we are less than two weeks away from the Sharks-Kings outdoor game at the new Santa Clara spot, I decided that it was time that I join the party.

There was a big to-do out at Levi’s on Monday to welcome gigantic refrigerator trucks carrying the “equipment” to create the rink ice for the game on February 21. The NHL peppered my email inbox with announcements about the multi-state trek that the trucks were making to bring 20,000 gallons of water to the South Bay in order to turn the center of the Levi’s field into a raised rink acceptable for the pros to play on.

With every press release the NHL sent, the following question burned brighter in my skull: What kind of mayhem is an ice rink going to wreak on the already-fragile Levi’s Stadium field?

I will be the first to admit that I was in support of the NHL selecting the Santa Clara spot for hosting Northern California’s first Stadium Series game over AT&T Park. Choosing the football stadium over AT&T Park due to better sightlines and more seating made sense. But the issues stemming from the Niners’ new home have me wondering if holding the game in San Francisco would have been a better decision — at the very least, the focus could stay on the game being played, instead of the looming problems with the site itself.

The playing field at Levi’s has been a focal point of stadium’s subpar inaugural year, dating back to last summer. As if the 49ers in-house drama wasn’t enough, they were also playing in new digs where the grass had to be replaced on more than one occasion. Actually, the field was a cause for concern even before former coach Jim Harbaugh pulled the team from practicing on the field because the conditions were so bad. In July one of the end zones was reportedly beaten up by concert equipment used during a John Legend gig.

Now supposedly the issues of “sad sod” have been remedied: Groundskeepers have installed Candlestick-ian grass for football games and identified what the field needs to drain properly. Per an article on NBCBayArea.com posted at the start of the New Year, “Team officials say that the field issues have been solved.” So what’s going to happen to the field once they lay a couple sheets of ice on top of it?

The Mercury News was present at the big “truck arrival” and chronicled the Q&A with NHL ice specialist Dan Craig. (No really, that’s his title, “ice specialist”.) He was asked point blank if the rink will add to the turf woes. The “ice guy” responded:

The 49ers say absolutely not. A stage is constructed that elevates the ice floor itself above the grass. More than 240 interconnected aluminum trays of water are then placed on that stage to create what will be a one-and-three-fourths inch sheet of ice.

Aluminum trays, huh? That sounds as bad as concert equipment.

I’m no grassologist, or even an entry-level groundskeeper, and I could be completely overreacting. The Sharks-Kings outdoor game could be free of any stadium mishaps. The focus could remain on the fact that you never know what to expect when the LA Kings come to town, or that these teams genuinely don’t like each other and are at their physical best when they face off. The up-and-down seasons that both teams are having could culminate in one really good Saturday night hockey game.

Or, we could spend the next month talking about a huge chasm left on the field from where they will place the giant shark’s head that will make the trip from SAP Center. Who knows.

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