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The race is on for NHL’s ice architect Dan Craig to build Winter Classic rink on time

Dec 24, 2010, 7:00 AM EDT

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For the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and almost everyone else in the hockey world, Thursday night’s teaser and HBO’s captivating 24/7 series emphasized the fact that the Winter Classic needs to happen as soon as possible. Most of us are dying to see the league’s latest outdoor game.

Yet for at least one man – the NHL’s chief architect Dan Craig * – that countdown couldn’t last long enough. Thursday was a big night for him too, but because of the other championship winning team from Pittsburgh; he was finally given a chance to begin the rink-building process for the Winter Classic after the Steelers wrapped up their dominant performance against the Carolina Panthers.

Actually, Craig doesn’t even get until January 1, 2011 to set up the rink, either. The regulation-sized ice surface must be ready to go at Heinz Field by noon on December 30th, as the news media will test the ice and then the Mario Lemieux/Peter Bondra-fueled Alumni Game will take place on the 31st.

If anyone can do it, Craig would be the man – he’s been working on ice surfaces since for 44 years and has been working for the league for 13 years – but it’s still an overwhelming undertaking. Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a fascinating story on Craig’s conundrum. Here are some of the most pertinent bits, but I recommend reading the entire thing.

“We will take to the field at midnight,” said Mr. Craig in a conference call, sounding like Union General George Meade before the Battle of Gettysburg, and indeed they will wage war: against common sense, time and the weather.

Mr. Craig has his marching orders: Have a hockey rink ready to go by noon Dec. 30. His to-the-minute battle plan involves equipment roadways, platforms, miles of tubing, 3,000 gallons of coolant, 20,000 gallons of water and pleas to the weather gods to allow the work to proceed.

“It’s a continual evolution of what Mother Nature is going to throw at you,” he said.

(snip)

The 300-ton, 53-foot custom-built refrigeration truck, which pumps the coolant under the ice, will arrive Friday. The stage and panels for the ice will take 10 to 12 hours to complete, he said. Those panels contain the coolant to freeze the water and, if all goes well, he’ll be making ice by Christmas night. On Tuesday, his crew will paint the ice with hockey lines and logos, then build another inch of ice.

Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and others will star in the Winter Classic on New Year’s day, but if you want to discuss heroes, Craig might be the man. You can watch the rink building process at Heinz Field (this post’s main image captures a piece of the process) via NHL.com’s web cam here.
* Not to be confused with the latest actor to take on the role of James Bond, although Craig might use some gadgets that would impress the international spy.

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