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.
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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."
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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.
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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.
PHILADELPHIA -- The rain started at exactly 11:30 a.m., and it's been slowly picking up steam here at Citizens Bank Park.
NHL ice guru Dan Craig is in his back-and-forth mode. He was just out on the ice checking out the floor to see how fast the rink is freezing, but now is briskly walking back toward the ramp leading to the refrigeration truck that is parked behind the right-field wall.
While it rains this afternoon, Craig will be doing a lot of running back and forth between the rink and the truck to make sure everything is working in sync and he's not freezing the rain that's falling onto the ice sheet too fast or too slow. He said it's all about balance, and if he can make it work, then Mother Nature will have helped him build the type of ice that he wants.
However, the rain is supposed to pick up as the day goes on, and roughly an inch of rain is expected to fall here.
Craig said if the forecast is accurate and the rain persists, he'll send his crew back to the hotel because there won't be anything for them to do here while it rains. He'll monitor the truck to see how fast it's pumping the glycol coolant to the floor, but that's a one- or two-man job.
In fact, since Craig left the field no one else has come on. That's how quiet it is here now due to the rain.
Our hope is to talk to Craig again later today to see how things are progressing and how the rain is affecting him, if at all.
PHILADELPHIA -- NHL Facilities Operations Supervisor Don Moffatt was on his way back to Citizens Bank Park shortly before 9 a.m. this morning, a mere eight hours after he left the ballpark.
Moffatt, who was heading to the NHL staff shuttle, told NHL.com the crew was able to create almost an inch of ice before leaving the park after midnight. He seemed pleased with how well the night shift went and said he already had spoken to NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig, who arrived at the park just after 6 a.m. to start the day shift.
Moffatt said the goal this morning is to try to get between an eighth of an inch and a quarter of an inch of ice on the surface before rain is expected to arrive around 11 a.m., but Craig told NHL.com later that with the rain coming there is no need to spray any more water.
So, instead he had members of the crew installing more cables for the Eye on the Ice technology.
Eye on the Ice -- long cables with temperature sensors on the end -- provides real-time information on the ice surface to Craig and his staff and allows them to make any necessary adjustments. In addition to the two sensors installed this morning, there are two others frozen to the ice trays on the rink floor.
Moffatt said having the two measurements gives the crew a much better idea of how the floor is running in relation to what the refrigeration truck is pumping.
NHL.com will have more on Eye on the Ice later, including a video with Craig explaining it in detail.
Craig and his staff could have some challenges to tackle depending on the type of rain that falls on Philadelphia.
It's expected to be a warm rain, but if it's the light, misty kind, then they'll be able to freeze it and, as Moffatt said, Mother Nature would have done their job for them. However, if it's a heavy, warm rain with large droplets, freezing it could be difficult and it could create some run-off, which may lead to some melting on the edges.
That would mean the crew would have to do more slushing. Slushing is a process by which they take snow from neighboring Wells Fargo Center, haul it to Citizens Bank Park, and pack clumps of it into the edges of the rink to fill the gap of roughly three quarters of an inch between the boards and the ice surface.
PHILADELPHIA -- Fire up the benches, it's cold outside.
Once again the player benches at the NHL Winter Classic will have the option to be heated, and Monday afternoon the connection was completed.
A 10-inch aluminum pipe was attached to a kerosene heater called Dyna-Glo Pro, which is stationed behind each bench. Since player benches actually consist of two benches put together, the pipe runs between them and then off to run underneath each seating area.
The heat actually runs from the kerosene heater through an eight-inch pipe that is inside the 10-inch pipe. The eight-inch pipe provides insulation so the outside layer of the 10-inch pipe isn't too hot to touch. It's called a double-insulator pipe.
Once the kerosene heater gets fired up, the benches can get hot quick, and the players don't always like it that way. In Buffalo, the players opted to have the heaters moved back away from the benches. The further the kerosene heater gets from the bench the less heat it delivers to the bench.
The benches the NHL will use this year came from the Buffalo Bills. The NFL team purchased new benches and offered its old ones to the League for use at its outdoor events.
These benches even provide an area for the players to heat their feet. There are 10 spots on each bench for the players to rest their feet. Of course, at any given time during 5-on-5 play there are 14 players on the bench, and since they shift around quite a bit, especially with on-the-fly line changes, odds are the players won't even realize they can heat their feet at the same time as their bottoms.
What's also interesting is the pipe that connects the heater to the benches runs high in between the perch for the coaches behind the bench. So, if Peter Laviolette or John Tortorella want to move up and down the bench to talk to their forwards and defensemen, they better watch their step because it'll be easy for them to trip over the pipe.
PHILADELPHIA -- For the second straight Christmas, Dan Craig and several members of his crew spent the holiday together, building ice for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
It hardly was a bother to them.
"You know what? It was quite relaxing," Toronto native Garrett Mills said. "During the day there are still some people around the stadium, but once the sun went down we stayed out here, got a little glare off the Phillies sign above the scoreboard, and that's when you really noticed it because all you heard was the water hitting the ice. It was a surreal experience when you figure out where you are, what you're doing and how lucky you are to have the opportunity to be doing it."
Chicago native Pat Finch, who has been on Craig's crew since the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in 2009, said the best part about staying in Philadelphia was how much work they were able to accomplish without any distractions.
"We weren't killing ourselves and we got our stuff done," Finch said. "We made the best of a bad situation."
Not everyone on the crew stayed in town, but those who did only spent a few hours at the ballpark in the morning and again in the late afternoon into the early evening. It was far different than last year in Pittsburgh, when they had two sets of six crew members rotating on 12-hour shifts.
This year they were able to go out for a Christmas dinner. Last year they had it in the ballpark during a quick shift break.
"It is peaceful and it is nice, but at 2 or 3 in the morning it's not all that great, so it was nice to take advantage of it here," said Minnesota native Jake Fernholz. "There was no pressure here. We got ourselves in a good spot where we didn't have to kill ourselves to make sure everything was ready to rock when everybody else got in."
Of course, it did come at a price.
"Essentially no pressure, and yet we had to stay through Christmas to make sure the work got done," Fernholz said. "So, there is a double-edged sword there."
Mills said he countered that by celebrating Christmas with his family a week early. Finch said he'll do Christmas with his family when he gets home.
"It's tough when you tell them you won't be able to make it home for Christmas, but this is like a second family," Finch said. "The people we were with here, if I couldn't be with my family I'd rather be with them. We laughed, had some good dinners and it was really good."
NEWARK, N.J. --Michal Neuvirth will be making his fourth straight start in the Capitals net and looking his first two-game winning streak of the season. Tomas Vokoun hasn't played since Dec. 13 against Philadelphia, when he was pulled after allowing four goals on 21 shots through two periods.
Defenseman John Erskine will also return to the Capitals lineup after sitting out Tuesday's 4-1 win over Nashville.
Here is how the entire lineup should look at the start of Friday night's game against the Devils:
He's a winner. We want winners here, and he's a proven winner. He's won two Stanley Cups. He's 22 years old and been a big part of it. He's got all the right tools. He's got size (6-foot-1, 204 pounds) and strength. He's exactly what we were looking for. He's going to be a big piece of our team for many, many years to come.
— Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen on Brandon Saad, who he acquired in a trade with the Blackhawks on Tuesday