LOS ANGELES -- Virtually everyone who took the ice at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday was impressed by the quality of the sheet Dan Craig has groomed in the middle of the iconic ballpark's infield.
"I was surprised at how good the ice was because I know the [ice resurfacer] has only been on the ice once and it has been mostly spraying for days," said Luc Robitaille, the president of business operations for the Los Angeles Kings and a Hall of Fame player. "I was shocked how level it was and how good a job Dan had already done because usually the first time you step on the ice it's never really good. It takes a few days, so this is great."
Robitaille spent a couple of hours on the ice, taking part in a short skate with Craig in the late afternoon and then playing in a pair of games of pickup hockey. With 1,431 regular-season games on his NHL resume, Robitaille should be considered a good judge of the quality of the Dodger Stadium surface that will host the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).
If not him, then perhaps Stephane Quintal, a retired defenseman who has 1,037 games on his NHL resume and now works for the League's Department of Player Safety.
"Dan Craig did a great job with the ice," Quintal said after taking part in a celebrity game put together by Robitaille. "I want to congratulate him and the crew because they did a great job."
Those opinions, while nice, did little to sooth the critical voice inside Craig's head. After all, he is after perfection.
"It's OK, as everyone knows when I am working on it, it is not where I want it to be, where I need it to be," said Craig, who took the first official skate on the surface during the early morning hours Wednesday. "We're still three days away from the game, and that is why we do what we do and we'll be better tomorrow."
Craig has set the bar quite high this time around, measuring himself against the ice surface he created for the 2014 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., on New Year's Day.
"It's about a seven," Craig said when asked to rate the ice quality on a scale of 1 to 10. "We are usually between a six and a seven at this point. Unfortunately for us, probably the best sheet of ice we have put together in the whole five or six years that we have done we just came out of in Ann Arbor. I can say that was the best ice we have put together anywhere. Now, I'm going one-to-one comparison against it, so it's a pretty high bar."
Craig admits the hard work is done now. The ice is installed and just needs to be manicured to reach its full potential.
"I want it to be a little tighter on the top end, but Mother Nature will tell me when that is going to happen because we have had a little more humidity hanging in air for the last three days than when we started," he explained. "We started at 15 percent or so and now we are in 50s, and it makes a big difference in the top [of the ice].
"It's all about manicuring now, being able to read the temperatures, being able to set the [ice-making] truck exactly where you want it because half a degree on the truck will make a big difference on what the players feel. It doesn't sound like much, but to us it is a big deal."
Still, despite the high standards he has demanded of himself, Wednesday did provide some positive impact.
The praise from Robitaille and Quintal was appreciated. But even more encouraging were the laughs and smiles of those fortunate enough to take part in the media skate and celebrity game during the early evening hours. Each player broke into a smile as he stepped on the ice, with many laughing at the sheer joy of skating outside in the middle of a baseball diamond in Los Angeles.
Craig, despite a lengthy to-do list, noticed the smiles and heard the laughs. They are the fuel that drives him to deliver the best ice surface he and his crew can each time they tackle a project like this.
"That's why we are doing this; we are trying to bring hockey back to the grass roots and it doesn't matter where the grass roots are," he said. "This week, we're in L.A. We have a lot of good players coming out of California, so it doesn't matter where you are, the kid is in you and once you put the skates on, it is fun time to be out there."
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