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Keeping things on the level at Fenway

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

BOSTON -- Ice guru Dan Craig preaches patience to every member of his hand-picked crew as it turns Fenway Park from a baseball cathedral to a hockey temple. But, Tim Thiel needs a little more patience than most.

Thiel, the owner of S.P.E.C. Technologies in Lockport, N.Y., was contracted by Craig to make sure that Fenway Park's infield was level enough to handle the ice rink that will host the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day (1 p.m., NBC, CBC, RDS).

He completed his portion of the project on Saturday night, overseeing the insulation of a skirt of high-density polyurethane material -- to insulate the field from frost damage -- that will serve as the foundation for the ice-making panels.

Now, though, Thiel will have to wait almost three full weeks to see his handiwork come fully to life. And, it will be a long three weeks.

"When you go do something like this and you see the people come into the building and enjoy it, it's like putting blood into the veins," he said.

While it sounds easy to level a field, the process was complicated because of the severe crown built into the Fenway Park infield. The crown allows rainwater to run toward the dugouts on the first- and third-base sides of the field.

Thiel thought he knew what he was in for because he had eliminated the crown at Ralph Wilson Field in Buffalo, the site of the first Winter Classic. But, the crown of a baseball field, by design, has to be far more complex to allow for faster drainage.

According to Craig, the field falls away more than three inches in the 20 feet beyond each baseline. So, that area has to be stabilized sufficiently to handle the heavy Zamboni ice resurfacing machines the League employs.

"We didn't use as much material as we did in Buffalo, but it was a much harder design," Thiel said.

Hard solutions, however, are Thiel's forte. His company has been figuring out the answers to tough engineering questions since 1994 when Thiel got into the business of construction management.

"We like to do anything that hasn't been done or is high profile," the 48-year-old engineer said. "Basically, we take a project from the owner's idea right to the certificate of occupancy.

Well, back in 2008, nobody had ever tried to play an NHL game outdoors in the United States, so the first Winter Classic was both unique and high-profile enough to pique Thiel's interest when Craig called.

Thiel had come to Craig's attention as the man responsible for the Pond at Bryant Park, the temporary outdoor skating rink that pops up annually at the iconic green space in midtown Manhattan. Therefore, he had to figure out not only how to level the park's green spaces, but also handle a restrictive weight limit because the park sits atop a vault housing materials for the New York City Public Library.

"He has a good grasp of what is required and how it has to be done," says Craig. "He is very professional and it was a good working relationship between his company and our production company responsible for building the rink."

Thiel was not directly involved in the build-out of last year's Winter Classic rink at Wrigley Field because of prior commitments, but he did serve as a consultant on that project.

For Thiel, the first Winter Classic was among the highlights in what has been a career full of highlights -- "I'm lucky to do what I do," he says. For a Buffalo-area guy to build an ice rink at the home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills to be used for a regular-season game between the hometown Sabres and the Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins, it was almost more than the imagination could handle -- especially when he was in the players' tunnel, on field level, watching the game on New Year's Day..

"It was an amazing experience," says Thiel, who still speaks fondly of the Sabres' French Connection -- Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert -- which owned the city during Thiel's high school and college days. "With the snow and everything, it was just amazing. People still talk about that game all the time and I think I had the best seat in the house."

Now, Thiel will just have to wait -- patiently, we hope -- to see if this year's event at Fenway Park can top the thrills associated with the first Winter Classic.

"I can't wait," Thiel said. "I love watching the park come to life after a project like this is done. It is such an amazing experience."