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NHL facilities crew puts trouble on ice

Saturday, 12.27.2008 / 7:10 PM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

CHICAGO -- The rain was coming down, the temperature reached a record high and there were even tornado warnings, but NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig was smiling and joking around Saturday morning.

And, why not?

Craig appears at peace with everything going on with his temporary rink on the Wrigley Field grass because he has complete comfort and confidence in the ice crew he has working with him on build-up for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

"This is exactly what it's about; right here on a day like today," Craig told NHL.com as the rain fell around him at around 11 a.m. CT. "A day like today is why I selected the guys that are here. We know we're up against it. The weather is doing what it's doing, but we had a meeting and had a lot of great ideas from experienced people around the industry. Everybody's opinion counts and we put it on the table, create a plan, and away we go."

Craig's crew is a melting pot of ice guys. He's got friends working with him from Edmonton, Kelowna, St. Paul, Colorado Springs, Jasper, Alb., and, of course, Chicago.

Craig put together the crew through connections he's made through years in the ice-making business, and most of the guys have worked with him on other projects, including his 32-year-old son, Mike, who flew in Friday from British Columbia.

"I'm working with my dad and that's a pretty cool thing to be able to do," Mike Craig told NHL.com. "We have worked well together and it's a pretty special thing. We don't get to see each other as often as we'd like. He lives in Minneapolis and I live in Kelowna, so on a personal level it's great just to hang out with my dad."

Mike worked on the ice crew at Rexall Place in Edmonton during the 2005-06 season and with his father on both the Heritage Classic in 2003 and in Japan in 2000 when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators opened the season there.

Now he only dabbles in the facilities operations management field. Mike Craig is instead the recreation coordinator at Okanagan College, which means he handles all the intramural sports and special events on campus.

"I still try to stay in it by consulting with local arenas, but for the most part I have taken a break from it to focus on family life," Craig said. "I was working for the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 when they went to the Stanley Cup Final, but I found it to be a great strain on my family, so we decided to move back to Kelowna where my wife's family is from. I still definitely try to keep my hand in the rink business."

Because he's not affiliated with any rink, Mike had to call his father to ask to be a part of his crew. There were, however, obstacles he had to clear before he could get here. For instance, Mike's wife gave birth to their second daughter, Ashlyn, on Dec. 5.

"It's tough to be away, but you can't say no to things like this," Mike said. "Everything worked out. Mom is healthy and the baby is healthy and she actually came a little bit early so that definitely helped."

Don Moffatt, 50, is the only member of the crew - outside of Craig, of course - to be employed on a full-time basis by the NHL.

Moffatt, who worked the 2006 Olympics in Torino with Craig, came to the NHL as the Facilities Operations Supervisor in September after working in the same capacity for USA Hockey. The Winter Classic is his first outdoor event.

"We were here the week before Christmas and there wasn't a lot of excitement," Moffatt, who lives in Colorado Springs, told NHL.com. "We knew what had to get done and it was a working environment, but now we're getting closer to the finish line. When we're done it will be a big sense of relief."

Moffatt got into the ice-making business in, of all places, Tempe, Ariz. A self-proclaimed rink rat, Moffatt, a former OHL referee, moved to Phoenix from Ontario in 1987. As he was waiting for his paperwork to clear he spent a lot of his time at the one local rink in Tempe. When the paperwork cleared, Moffatt was hired as the rink's assistant manager.

Now he's honored to be a part of Craig's crew.

"Dan is the boss and I'm under him, but you would never know who the boss of the group is because when something needs to be done everybody already knows what it is and they just do it," Moffatt said. "We were here one night and Dan said, 'I'm going to send four guys home, the rest of us will work and then you guys will come back in the middle of the night.' We were like, 'We'll just stay.' It's that type of group."

Travis Larson, 34, who worked with Craig at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, knows what that type of group means. He has his own crew like this one back in St. Paul, where he's the Ice Operations Manager at the Xcel Energy Center.

"Everybody is willing to go the extra mile. It's a, 'Let's do it' attitude," Larson told NHL.com. "It was the same in Salt Lake with the crew he put together out there. A lot of us still hang out at our annual meetings. It's kind of like a click because the friendships we made then still endure today. Everybody is working together to get it done."

While Larson is in Chicago, the Wild will host two games, against the Blackhawks Sunday and San Jose Sharks Wednesday. He said he needed clearance from his bosses to work on the Winter Classic, but is keeping in touch with his crew.

"I left them a lot of notes, but in my six guys I can probably count about 90 years of working experience in a rink," said Larson, 34, who broke into the business in 1990 as a 16-year-old. "I have a great crew at home. I'm not worried about them."

Zach Cornwall isn't quite sure if facilities operations management is the field he wants to get into, but the 21-year-old is here anyway because Craig and his father used to work together and Craig needed an extra hand. Craig called Cornwall, "my rookie."

Cornwall wasn't in Chicago for the first week of construction because he still had some schoolwork to finish up at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, where he is studying business.

"Dan invited me out and I jumped on the opportunity," Cornwall told NHL.com. "I was ready to leave school early to come out here."

Cal Waschuk, who is from the ice crew at Rexall Place in Edmonton, is here along with his son, Aaron, who is volunteering his services to be part of Craig's crew. Cal and Dan Craig worked together in Edmonton.

Another Edmontonian, Ralph Godard, who has also worked with Craig on multiple occasions, is also part of the crew. Rob Block, from Jasper, is one of Craig's oldest friends. They went to school together and have been close ever since.

Francois Martindale is the head ice guy at the Bell Centre in Montreal and both Dan Ahearn and Pat Finch came from the nearby United Center to be part of the crew.

"I got calls from probably a hundred guys that wanted to volunteer and come here for nothing to be part of the crew," Moffatt said. "People that we knew all over the U.S., they would say, 'My grandma lives in Chicago, I can stay with her for free.' Easily a hundred people have volunteered to come, so it's definitely a privilege. It's exciting."

It's the project of the year for these guys.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com