The kids have been playing shinny on the auxiliary rink since just before 1 p.m. Citizens Bank Park started filling up with fans about a half-hour later. The band playing outside in Spectator Plaza has been heard loud and clear inside the ballpark since noon. Right now they're belting out some Pearl Jam.
It's quite the scene here at the Phillies home park. After nearly two weeks of non-stop construction, the place is finally filling up for a hockey game.
The Molson Canadian 2012 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game is set to begin in about an hour, and it is expected to be played in front of roughly 47,000 fans. Yes it's an exhibition and supposed to be fun, but try telling that to the fans here in Philly and the ones who came down from New York.
These are their old heroes battling their old enemies, and to them this is real.
Jeremy Roenick is doing his best to fuel the fire over Twitter. Roenick, whose Twitter name is @Jeremey_Roenick, tweeted, "Steph Matteau is in my sights.. Heads up today. Who else needs to get hit..." just after noon. He also mentioned how great it is that Eric Lindros is "lacin' them up today."
Lindros is here and ready to reunite with old Legion of Doom linemate John Leclair. The LCB line of Reggie Leach, Bob Clarke and Bill Barber will be together again.
Dan Craig and his crew are pulling the insulated tarps off the ice and the sun has almost faded completed into the distance. You know the Alumni Game is going to start soon because this is the live blog for it, and now we're live.
PHILADELPHIA -- The first skates touched the Citizens Bank Park ice shortly after 10 a.m. Friday morning. They were tied onto Dan Craig's feet.
Craig, rightfully so, was the first person to skate on the rink he and his crew have been creating here for nearly two weeks. He skated along the boards and kept his eyes down, looking at the ice around the edges.
Not long after Craig got on the ice, several members of the crew and some NHL staffers joined him and started taking some twirls. The sun is shining, but right now shadows are covering roughly a third of the ice.
HBO had its cameras rolling on the entire thing.
We'll have more later, including a video report from the ice.
PHILADELPHIA -- Dylan Candelore, Tyreese Walker and Kristopher Zapata now know what good grades, a strong work ethic, a positive attitude and excellent attendance can do for them.
The three members of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation were selected from among 2,500 candidates to come to Citizens Bank Park on Thursday and help NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig build the ice sheet for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
The kids joined Craig and his crew on the ice Thursday morning. Craig taught them a few things about the rink-building process and then handed them a hose so they could spray water to seal in the Winter Classic logo just inside the visitor's blue line.
"I think it is pretty cool," said Candelore, a 10-year-old goalie from Philadelphia. "They only have the Winter Classic once a year and we got to help make the ice for it. That's just cool."
Candelore, Walker and Zapata were chosen to be at the ballpark on Thursday because they have an exemplary record within the Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. They will also be among the 10 kids who will skate on the auxiliary rink prior to and in-between periods of the game between the Flyers and Rangers on Jan. 2.
A total of 30 kids will rotate on the auxiliary rink on Jan. 2, including 10 from the Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, 10 from the Flyers fan development program, five from the Rangers and five from Ice Hockey in Harlem.
"Everybody is going to be staring at us," Zapata, a 9-year-old center from Pennsauken, N.J., said when he was told that all eyes inside the stadium will be on them. "It's going to be cool. Everybody will be watching."
The Snider Youth Hockey Foundation will also be represented by 110 kids holding flags and taking part in the ceremony prior to the Molson Canadien 2012 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game at 1 p.m. ET on Dec. 31. Even more kids will get a chance to skate on the main rink later in the afternoon on Dec. 31 during a private skate just for select members of the Foundation.
But the three that came on Thursday got the special treatment, including a tour of the ballpark after their visit with Craig.
"This was fun," said Walker, a 9-year-old defenseman from Philadelphia. "We got to spray the logo that's going to be on TV. That's awesome."
Of course, the actual Winter Classic game is also of great interest to three youngsters. They are, after all, huge Flyers fans.
Walker said his favorite player is Wayne Simmonds, while Candelore and Zapata both named Ilya Bryzgalov. Candelore likes Bryzgalov because, like him, he's a goalie. Zapata has gotten to like Bryzgalov by watching HBO's "24/7" series featuring the Flyers and Rangers.
"He's funny," Zapata said. "He talks about the universe and how you don't want to kill tigers in Russia."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
PHILADELPHIA -- The ice is white and the blue lines are down. The crew is currently laying in the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic logo that half-moons around the outside of the center-ice faceoff circle. The center ice faceoff dot is in and the outlines of the red line are as well. The goal lines are also being laid in.
A hockey rink is most definitely taking shape here at Citizens Bank Park.
NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig told NHL.com this morning that things are looking good and that he was even able to leave the ballpark by 8 p.m. Wednesday after arriving shortly after 6 a.m. He had members of his crew stay until midnight sealing in the white paint that they put on the ice sheet earlier in the evening.
The challenge is to have all the lines, logos, faceoff dots, circles, goal creases, trapezoids -- every possible marker -- frozen into the ice by 11 a.m. Thursday because that's about when the sun will start to cover the ice sheet.
Outside the boards, workers are busy laying long and wide white strips of foam on all the exposed grass areas. Without any natural snow at their disposal, the NHL uses the white foam to give the ballpark that wintery look. It's especially picturesque on television when NBC uses its airplane camera.
Outside the ballpark, work on Spectator Plaza continues. It is set to open at 9 a.m. on Dec. 31.
There is more of a buzz in the ballpark this morning. Several more NHL staff members arrived late last night and NHL Network will begin its coverage from Citizens Bank Park later today with NHL Live at 5 p.m.
We'll have more later, including an updates from both Dan Craig and Don Renzulli as well as some of the thoughts from Phillies President David Montgomery, who will be here to meet the media at 10:30 a.m.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
PHILADELPHIA -- Harry Westerby most likely was wearing his gray cardigan sweater with the elongated red-white-and-blue Rangers logo sewn onto the left side as a way of keeping warm.
Little did Westerby, the Rangers' trainer from their first three Stanley Cup championship teams (1928, 1933 and 1940), know that the logo he wore on the left side of that heavy cardigan would serve as the inspiration for the team's logo for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
In fact, the Rangers' logo for this season's Winter Classic is, according to NHL Executive V.P. of Marketing Brian Jennings, basically exactly the same as the one Westerby wore on his sweater.
"His wife probably sewed it on the sweater and he wore it out of necessity as a way of keeping warm," Jennings told NHL.com. "This was in the 1920s, and probably no one was thinking about merchandising."
A picture of Westerby wearing the sweater was included in a large batch of photos the Rangers sent to Reebok.
"And the Reebok guys are amazing," Jennings said. "You can page through three or four pages of nothing but shots, it might even be of a practice jersey, and you'd be like, 'Wow, I never realized they had that.' It can be anything, even stuff that you wouldn't think, to be the point of information. I think fans love that stuff."
Jennings added that the fact the logo is already part of Rangers history is important to the overall Winter Classic celebration and the marketing that goes on around it.
"Very few clubs say, 'Make me a fusion jersey, just go and create what you want, and basically disregard whatever our history was,'" Jennings said. "In most instances they want to be able to point back to something and frankly tell a story. The fact that Harry Westerby was the inspiration behind this is a fun story for those that are in the know. Reporters can tell the story about where this came about, and a lot of clubs feel strongly about that."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
PHILADELPHIA -- The ice crew for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic reached into their bag of tricks Wednesday morning and pulled out a good one that had people standing around the boards wondering just what they were doing.
With NHL Facilities Operations Supervisor Don Moffatt looking on and helping out, the crew pulled out long sheets of white mesh and started freezing them into what they know are the weakest areas of the ice as a reinforcing agent.
Moffatt called the tactic "making steel ice," and said the mesh becomes so strong when it gets frozen into the ice that you need a circular saw to take it out. He said they used the tactic in Calgary last season for the Heritage Classic as well as in Boston for the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park.
They ran a piece 20 feet long by 5 feet wide the long way from the Zamboni doors out well beyond the holes for the goal moorings and then laid in a piece 30 feet long by eight feet wide along the goal line at the opposite end of the rink. Moffatt said reinforcing those two areas is important because they are where the Zamboni comes onto the ice and where it makes a lot of its turns.
They sprayed water over top the mesh in each area and used squeegees to spread it out and make sure the mesh was as straight and flat as it could be.
Moffatt said they may also use the mesh in front of the benches, because that's another high-traffic area. The mesh is not used in indoor NHL rinks because the ice is built on a cement floor. But for the outdoor rinks the NHL uses, the 30-foot wide aluminum panels that serve as the base are not as rigid and can bow slightly under the weight of the Zamboni in certain areas.
PHILADELPHIA -- The rain finally stopped around 8 p.m. Tuesday, but that was after a downpour that NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig called a "typhoon that from 6:45 to 7:10 gave us as much water on the ice as we got the rest of the day."
Craig and his crew arrived at Citizens Bank Park early Wednesday morning and, according to NHL Facilities Operations Supervisor Don Moffatt, the ice survived quite well.
Five members of the crew, including Moffatt, were on the ice twice between 7 and 9 a.m. spraying hot water in order to level out the sheet. It was simple ice maintenance that Craig said had to be done before they could break out the white paint and start with the task of coloring the ice into what fans normally would see.
The goal was to start painting white by 9 a.m., but the sun came out and started to hit the sheet just around that time, delaying the painting. Moffatt said it is best to paint when no sun is hitting the ice sheet because that way the paint will freeze quicker and won't run, which could create air pockets.
It's possible the crew won't start painting until 2 p.m., when the sun moves off the ice surface. While that is a setback of five hours, Moffatt said there is plenty of time built into the schedule and that they are going to hit their target of having the rink ready to go by Friday morning.
After painting white, the crew will try to build roughly an eighth of inch of ice on top to seal the white in before painting it can start with lines and logos. Moffatt said if they don't get a good seal of ice over the white paint, the white could bleed into the lines and logos.
There's a good chance the crew will work until midnight sealing in the white paint, which means they won't start putting in the lines and logos until Thursday morning.
They will then have to build roughly a half an inch of ice over the lines and logos to seal it all in.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
PHILADELPHIA -- Dan Craig confirmed the obvious late Tuesday afternoon.
"It's wet," he said rather, well, dryly, while standing at the Zamboni entrance of the rain-soaked rink at Citizens Bank Park.
Craig is accurate. It is quite wet here right now, but the rain that has fallen so far this afternoon has been the good kind for Craig, the NHL's ice guru, and his crew. It's not all that heavy, and he's been able to freeze it by making some adjustments in his refrigeration truck parked outside the ballpark.
"We're almost keeping up with it," Craig said optimistically.
Craig used the word "indifferent" to describe his attitude toward the rain.
"We have to deal with it and we are," he said.
He said he expects the rain to get heavier after 5 p.m., but the weather reports he's been looking at are suggesting the weather system will move out of the area by 9 p.m. tonight or shortly after. Craig originally thought the heavy rain would last until midnight.
"If we're almost keeping up with it now and we'll only get four hours or so of heavy stuff, then we should be fine," Craig, the NHL Senior Facilities Operations Manager, said.
Craig, who doesn't appear to be leaving the ballpark any time soon, said he'll be here at 6 a.m. Wednesday with four members of his crew. They'll start work on some ice maintenance, taking out the hoses and spraying hot water onto the ice to level it out. Once that freezes and the ice is smooth, they'll bring out the white paint and go to work making an ice sheet that looks like a hockey rink.
If the crew starts painting by 9 a.m. Wednesday, they'll be right on Craig's new schedule. He was supposed to have it painted and all sealed up by 9 p.m. Tuesday, but of course Mother Nature did not allow for that.
That's a really tough thing to play through; when you finally are thrown out there, the game is fast, intense, every single play matters, you've got to find a way to play through that and make smart plays. So it's a huge testament to [Vermette] and some other individuals in our locker room that are putting their own ego, their own wants and needs aside, and are ready for those opportunities when they do come.
— Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews on teammate Antoine Vermette, who returned from being a healthy scratch in Game 3 to score the double-overtime winner in Game 4