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NHL's Dan Craig says ice-making system for Winter Classic is ready for almost anything

By John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- National Hockey League Facilities Operation Manager Dan Craig fielded a wide-ranging array of questions from the local media Saturday about the NHL's refrigeration truck that will make the ice for the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Boston's Fenway Park on New Year's Day.

Most of the media inquiries were about the truck's ability to make ice in warm weather or during rain or snow. Craig said the refrigeration system can make ice at least to 50 degrees and likely into the 60s, although he added that it hasn't been tested at those temperatures yet.

Rain would be no problem but the snow could be if there is a lot of accumulation, he said.

"This truck has 300 tons of refrigeration. We have two compressors and two variable-speed glycol pumps as well as the condensing tower," Craig said. "It's similar to your freezer. The coils on the back of your freezer are similar to the coils that go into the floor. We park the truck on the street and put pipes down to the floor. We have a portable aluminum floor that we put together. The solution from the truck goes into the floor and then comes back. The truck makes the floor cold enough that we can put water on it and freeze it.

"This is the largest portable refrigeration system that is known to us in the whole world."

Craig said there were some problems with the ice at the first Winter Classic in Buffalo on Jan. 1, 2008, and he decided he needed better equipment, capable of meeting greater demands.

"The truck was designed during the summer after the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo because of certain situations that happened during that event," he said. "We decided it would be better if we had our own equipment moving forward. I was able to bring in my own crew so I wouldn't have such a high stress level.

"The truck cost $800,000 and the portable floor cost $600,000, so we are over $1.5 million in total costs right now. The boards that we used in Buffalo belong to us and we've purchased two smaller Zambonis to go with the system we have.

"This system is completely different from the one we used in Buffalo and the same as the one used last year at Wrigley Field. From Wrigley Field on, we'll have the same system every year. This is state-of-the-art, and everything on it is computerized. We have sensors in the floor so that if something goes wrong, it sends a signal to my computer and my BlackBerry, wherever we are. If I'm out to dinner and I get a problem signal, it lets me know if I have to deal with it right now or if I can continue eating."

The sun's bright glare caused some of the ice problems in Buffalo, but Craig said the rink at Fenway Park will be completely in shadow at 1 p.m. on New Year's Day, when the first puck is dropped. He said there are other advantages to the Boston location.

"Fenway Park is fairly similar to what we had last year at Wrigley Field. The distance from the truck to the ice at Fenway Park will be a little bit shorter than Wrigley Field," he said. "If we have a warmer day, we'll have a quicker recovery in our system. We had 400 feet from the truck to the ice at Wrigley, but this is closer."

Ice turns slushy at 33 degrees and melts faster with each degree the temperature rises. Ice and snow melt rapidly on 50-degree days. Craig was asked how he'll feel if he learns temperatures will be in the 50s.

"I'll be a happy camper," he said with a laugh. "I don't have a worry in the world about it being 50 degrees. We haven't yet forced this system as hard as we can push it. We had 60-degree days last year in Chicago and we made ice. But we'll see what the conditions are when we get there. In that sense, it's the same at 50 degrees as it would be at minus-10 degrees -- we have to see what we have when we get there.

"If rain falls, we'll be freezing it because that's how we make a sheet of ice. If you watch us, we make ice with mists. That's how I teach it -- make the water fall as if it's raining. Rain will freeze right away."

What if there is a lot of snow? Could the game be postponed? If so, it would be played on Jan. 2 at Fenway, Craig said.

"We had a lot of snow in Buffalo. If we have a lot more snow than that, it would be a decision that is made by Commissioner Gary Bettman or Vice President (Colin) Campbell. They would consult with us and ask how it is impacting the ice surface, how we can keep up and what are we going to do to do that. We have the equipment and the personnel to stay ahead of the problem."

A reporter told Craig that it doesn't sound as if it would be too difficult to hold this game in Philadelphia or New York. Craig indicated he will be able to give a better answer after Jan. 1.

"That's an envelope that we haven't pushed yet. We want to make sure that the system that we've designed will get us to what we need to have," he said. "I know in my heart of hearts that we can make ice at 50 degrees, but until we're faced with that and we push the system, what do we really have?"