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Wrigley ice nears completion ahead of schedule

Monday, 12.29.2008 / 5:28 PM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

CHICAGO -- When dawn breaks Tuesday morning in Chicago, Dan Craig hopes to have his skates laced up and his blades slicing through his historic ice sheet atop Wrigley Field's hallowed turf.

No promises, though.

"I'm going to be able to skate at 6 a.m., but whether I will be doing it or not, that's a different story," Craig told NHL.com. "Anything can happen. The alarm might not go off. I might not get out of bed. The shuttle could get detoured. Anything."

All kidding aside, Craig, the NHL Facilities Operations Manager -- who is better known as the most important person inside Wrigley Field right now -- is confident his sheet would be ready if the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks had to play at noon Tuesday instead of noon Thursday.
   
"If that was the timeline right now, would I be concerned? Yes. Would I be frightened of it? No, because we do it in normal rinks," Craig said. "We build a sheet of ice in 48 hours and the guys work through the night to do it. If we had to drop puck (Tuesday), we would still have time to build another three-quarters of an inch of ice. Am I concerned about that? No."

He doesn't have to be either because the teams don't skate on the ice until Wednesday. The Blackhawks will go first at 11 a.m. and the Red Wings will follow. They each have two-hour windows of ice time with 30 minutes between to re-surface.

Even so, Craig remains confident in his ice and in his crew, which he said is working in shifts totaling 16-17 hours per day this year as opposed to last year in Buffalo, when they worked in shifts for 23-24 hours per day.

"We have to keep them healthy," Craig said. "It's the same staff that has to take it out so we have to make sure we monitor them, make sure they get their rest and are taken care of every day."

Craig said the crew left Wrigley for good Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. with the ice painted white and at least 10 layers of seal on top of it. Craig and a few members were back at 6 a.m. Monday morning to make sure the floor temperatures were in the proper range before they started putting down the markings for all the lines, logos and faceoff dots.
   
By mid-afternoon, all the markings were painted onto the ice, but Craig said issues with direct sunlight stalled the crew for close to 90 minutes in the late morning.

Since they use a water-based paint, Craig said the paint has to freeze almost immediately or else it will run.

"We can not paint in direct sunlight," he said. "That's what attracts the heat and I need to freeze the paint and get it sealed over and then I'm fine. There was one end that was in a shadow and that was done before lunch. We could have had the whole rink done by lunch, but we started going and realized we better slow down a bit."

For the most part, though, Mother Nature has been very kind to the ice crew.

It was sunny Monday, but the temperature was a bit high at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind chill made it feel like 32. It's not perfect weather for Craig, but it was workable and that's all that really matters.

"The way that I read it is we are going to have 27 or 28 degrees and it may get to the low 30s and it's going to be overcast and that's exactly what I want."
-- Dan Craig

The forecast calls for it to be colder Tuesday, with the temperature expecting to reach 37 degrees by 3 p.m. There's a chance for some snow showers overnight, but Wednesday the temperature could dip down below 30 with no precipitation.

The key day, though, is Thursday, and Craig said if he's reading the forecast right, the weather would be perfect.

"The way that I read it is we are going to have 27 or 28 degrees and it may get to the low 30s and it's going to be overcast," Craig said, "and that's exactly what I want."

Craig anticipated his crew to be working until Tuesday's early-morning hours, building another three-quarters of an inch of ice. That's the layer of ice the players will be skating on, so patience is key and Craig said it takes a while.

He was planning to leave Wrigley Field by 6 o'clock Monday night in order to meet his wife, Lisa, at the hotel. She flew into Chicago earlier in the day.

"I promised her dinner, but I may have to haul her down here to take a look at it at around 8 or 9 o'clock," Craig said. "I'll be back first thing (Tuesday) morning for sure."

With his skates on…hopefully.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com