Robe on the Rig for NHL’s Return to Play

nNorth America’s National Hockey League (NHL) returns to play with Robe fixtures at the heart of the lighting rig. Photo: Steven Dalto

North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) spectacularly returned to play – without live audiences but with massive enthusiasm, determination and impressive TV and online followings – for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoff series, which was originally suspended in April following the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lighting equipment was supplied by Solotech and included over 200 Robe moving lights – a mix of Robe Pointes, Spiiders and Tarrantulas used by Lighting Designer, Tom Kenny.

The 24-team playoff format comprising Eastern and Western Conferences was staged in two Canadian hub cities – Edmonton and Toronto – over two months with two individual complete COVID-19 secure ‘bubbles’ for production teams, players, coaches and other associated personnel. Kenny was pleased to play his part in the lighting design “brilliantly organised and handled by NHL and Aurora Productions.”

He enlisted the support of Kurt Wagner and Brent Clark stationed in Edmonton, and Corey Thom and Eric Belanger in Toronto, as lighting director, selected for their “ability to think independently, take initiative and make informed decisions for themselves.

The design was almost identical for each venue, with slight variations in the lighting kit lists due to local availability and what could be added from the existing in-house systems. LED screen made up the set with eight different surfaces wrapping around 500m and almost 180° along one of the venue’s long sides, rigged in the seating area to bring it close to the ice.

Kenny frequently has Robe lighting fixtures at the core of his designs as workhorse fixtures and there’s usually a couple of specific Robe products which are ‘must-have’ every time. “In this case, it was because I needed fixtures with that power, punch and brightness to dazzle and cut through all that LED plus the highly reflective bright white surface of the ice,  with limited smoke and fog mostly and still look great on camera,” he declared.

In Edmonton, it was a combination of 32 Robe Pointes and 19 LEDWash 1200s helping to raise the roof and the lumen levels, while in Toronto, 104 Robe Pointes, 19 LEDBeam 1200s and 36 Tarrantulas were chosen. The fixtures – which also included several hundred others at each venue – were rigged on a network of trussing installed in the roof.

On site, Kenny and the production teams worked closely with the venue house crews and technical – Clayton Hubrick and Keith Hough in Edmonton and Mark Weglinski in Toronto.

Kenny was approached about the project in May. A marathon of Skype and Facetime calls, as well as hours spent on pre-vis preceded the end result. Due to  COVID-19, formats, dates, challenges, ideas, and solutions stayed fluid right up until the production and NHL arrived in Canada for the build, so the design also required an inbuilt flexibility.

Once in place and in their respective bubbles – including their hotels and specially designated eating areas connected to the arena by secure walkways with their own entrances and routes – production crews, players and all related personnel were tested daily by a team of 14 medical staff on site dedicated to ensuring all stayed safe. Masks were mandatory while working, social distancing was rigorous, and everyone washed their hands regularly as “hands, face and space” requirements ruled the working environment.

“It was a truly amazing, uplifting and at times extremely emotional experience for all,” enthused Kenny, who described the feat as “one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever been involved in. Everyone was so joyful and absolutely delighted to be back working and doing what we are all completely passionate about – showing the world just how much value, imagination dynamism and sheer enjoyment this innovative industry brings to events worldwide.”

The 2020 Stanley Cup final in Edmonton saw Eastern Conference champions Tampa Bay Lightning defeat Western Conference champions, Dallas Stars.