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 -- Rain fell here at Citizens Bank Park, but outside the stadium, it didn't slow the work being done in building Spectator Plaza.
Citizens Bank Way, the street which runs the length of the stadium from home plate to the back of the left-field seating area, was closed off to traffic and more than a half-dozen tents were put up on the first day of the build-out for the fan fun area.
"It shouldn't affect us too much," NHL Senior Vice President of Events Don Renzulli told NHL.com. "We're expecting about an inch of rain today, but we got a lot of stuff done this morning and then we'll start to move inside and do the things we need to do to stay dry.
"It'll probably hold us up a bit, but a lot of tenting is going up, so once they get one up they'll stay dry as best as they can and then we'll just keep moving. I don't anticipate it'll put us that far behind. We have time built in to catch up."
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."
PHILADELPHIA -- Seated in his temporary office here at Citizens Bank Park on Monday morning, NHL Senior Vice President of Events Don Renzulli said he isn't letting the excitement of what will happen in just seven days affect him.
With just a week remaining until they drop the puck for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, Renzulli is more focused on keeping the train on the tracks.
"Excitement? No," he told NHL.com. "Part of this is just being able to maintain and keep the build going and make sure you get everything done. The excitement comes when you start to bring people into the ballpark and they start to at least see what's going on and what it took to get there."
What they'll start seeing over the next few days will be pretty impressive.
The biggest attraction will be the Spectator Plaza, which will be constructed on Citizens Bank Way, adjacent to the stadium. With crews arriving from holiday break today, work will start tomorrow despite the rain being forecast for the Philadelphia region.
Renzulli said 10 different sponsors will have interactive areas for fans, with the centerpiece being Molson Hockey House.
"It's a scaled-down version of what they did at the (2010 Winter) Olympics, similar to what they did at (NHL) Faceoff in Winnipeg this year," Renzulli said. "Which is really a kind of a sports bar. … It's a big bar, but they integrate other things in the tent."
There also will be a giant video board, NHL Network will be broadcasting from the plaza, and there will be live music, including a performance by The Zoo, winner of MTV's Ultimate Cover Band contest.
"We do a lot of photo ops outside," Renzulli said. "They'll have a lot of branding of the game. It's not much different than what we've had in the past. There's food and beverages, there'll be sampling of the products of our sponsors. Then it's just a tailgate party."
Work also will continue on turning the inside of the baseball stadium into an outdoor hockey wonderland, from hanging signs and installing décor on field walls and gates, and much more.
The work will continue over the next few days, and besides tomorrow's rain, the forecast looks pretty good right through the game on Jan. 2.
"It's not much different than we've been seeing all along," Renzulli said. "It's mid-to-upper 20s and 30s at night and up into the mid-to-upper 40s during the day. Slight chance of rain or snow shower on the 31st, but with temperatures in the mid-to-low 40s I don't really see that becoming snow. If it does, it's not going to stick. Winds are pretty constant between five and 20 (mph) throughout that time, it just depends on when. Right now they're calling on game-day as mostly cloudy, chance for light rain or snow showers late. So I would anticipate we're not going to see much (precipitation) during the game. Highs in the mid-to-upper 40s, lows in the low 30s, it's overcast, won't have the sun to contend with. Might be a little bit warmer for the fans than it has been at other games, (but) you deal with it."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
PHILADELPHIA -- Workers spent the day installing a viewing stage around the rink, giving it a more elevated look. The entrance for the Zamboni was finished -- the doors were installed and the ramp for its path onto the ice was built. The platforms for the NBC and CBC broadcast crew were finished in short center field. And just now, the player benches were brought out and sent into place.
And since this is a Flyers-Rangers game, maybe one of the most important aspects of the rink was built -- the penalty boxes.
If all goes to plan, the next addition to the rink will be water, and when everyone returns from the holiday weekend, we might see some ice on the rink.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
PHILADELPHIA -- While the big story of the day is the slush that's being laid down in the gaps under the boards and between the ice panels, another item made its way onto the Winter Classic rink surface.
Two thin cables were laid on opposite ends of the ice, each with a small temperature gauge at the end of it. Called Eye on the Ice, the gauges relay vital, real-time information to NHL Senior Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig.
"(Eye on the Ice) is a monitoring system we have that will tell us the temperature on the panels themselves," Craig told NHL.com. "Once we build an inch of ice we'll put another cable in which will give us the temperature an inch off the panel, and then I'll walk around with an a hand-held infrared gun for temperature. It gives us all three parameters of what it is in the ice surface."
Eye on the Ice is important for Craig, who can monitor the rink surface 24 hours a day, either from on-site or a remote location. With that information, Craig or his crew can adjust the temperature on the panels and create the perfect situation for making ice.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK