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For Craig and his crew ice building a labor of love

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

BOSTON --  The family was reunited early Monday morning and there were hugs, handshakes and high fives all around as a bunch of blue-collar guys prepared to go to work.

All together, the nine members of NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig's ice crew for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic took the mile-long stroll from The Westin Copley Place to Fenway Park because they wanted to.

They all worked together on last year's game at Wrigley Field and figured what better way to start their challenge of this year's game in Boston than walking into the 97-year-old ballpark together.

"We talk only every once in a while during the year, so it's definitely a reunion when we get back together," Mike Craig, Dan's son from Kelowna, B.C., told NHL.com while standing on the field below the bright sun at around 11:30 a.m. Monday. "It's absolutely a team."

The crew, Craig's vision of an All-Star team in his line of work, flew in to Boston this weekend. They're here because of their passion not just for making ice, but for being a part of something bigger than they are and something better than what they do on an everyday basis.

"You know what, I'd die for this," said Edmontonian Cal Waschuk, who is here with his son, Aaron. "It's a labor of love. You have to enjoy it and you have to enjoy the people you are working with. (Dan) has a crew set up so well right now that it would be a pity to sway away from it."

Mike Craig left his wife and two little girls home in Kelowna on Saturday so he could fly across the continent and over the border to be a part of his dad's ice crew for the single most important event of the NHL's regular season.

"We have a 1-year old (Ashlyn) and my wife (Jenn) just went back to work teaching full time," Mike said. "It's her really. She's the reason I'm able to be here. Without her and the support from family I wouldn't be able to come."

Mike cherishes the fact that he can to Boston. He works in the recreation department at Okanagan College and also is an ice consultant for various Western Hockey League teams. If it weren't for his work on the Winter Classic, he might see his dad once a year.

"It's an absolute bonus," Mike said of working with his dad. "He's the reason I even entered the field. I finished playing hockey and I had no idea what I wanted to do at all. I talked to him about this and since I always loved hockey it just seemed like a natural fit. It's what I went to school (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary) for and I started working in rinks right away."

Cal and Aaron Waschuk, the other father-son combination on Craig's ice crew, used up all of their vacation time from their jobs in Edmonton to be here at Fenway Park for what Cal describes as "a labor of love."

Cal worked with Dan Craig at Edmonton Coliseum (now Rexall Place) before Craig left to join the NHL. They have known each other for roughly 30 years.

"We taught each other things and he went on, but we always kept in contact," said Cal, who was also part of the ice crew for the Heritage Classic in Edmonton in 2003. "He just said, 'Cal, I want you to be a part of my crew.' It just so happened that I brought my son along and he wanted him, too."

Aaron is a heavy-duty mechanic, and considering the massive equipment Craig and his crew are working with for the Winter Classic, it can't hurt to have one of those around.

"You know, I have done so many games in my life and this is not really a normal game, this is something bigger," Cal said. "This is like doing a Stanley Cup game, but it's more exciting because it's outside and it's a challenge. We love it. I love it."

Nobody here knows Craig as long as Rob Block, who left his auto mechanic business in Jasper, Alta. to come to Boston for the first time in his life. Block and Craig went to Jasper Junior-Senior High School together and graduated in 1974.

After working together running tow trucks between Jasper and a neighboring town, Block and Craig lost touch. They found each other again 10 years ago at the Class of 1974's 25th Reunion in Jasper and Block worked his first outdoor game last year in Chicago.

"When he was putting together a crew, he said, 'If it's 40 below, freezing winds or the middle of the night, I know you can come up with the ideas to think outside the box,' " Block told NHL.com. "I said, 'Sure, I'd love to come along and be a part of this.' "

Block, who is asked to tackle problems before they arise, called last year's Winter Classic "overwhelming." He remembers being treated like a celebrity by Chicagoans who marveled at the work he and the crew did to transform Wrigley Field into an ice palace.

"We worked as a small crew and we built the rink, but on gameday, when it started to fill up, that's when it really hit me," Block said. "Dan came over at some point that day and he put his arm around me and said, 'You know, could you imagine in 1973 when we were in high school, sitting in the library and reading about major sporting events in Sports Illustrated, that we would actually be here today putting one on.' I never would have dreamed in my wildest dreams that we would be doing this. You just can't describe the feeling and what it was all about."

That goes for every one of these blue-collar guys on the ice crew. They're here not because they have to be or because they're getting paid millions like professional athletes, but rather because they wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"I love these guys," Dan Craig told NHL.com. "I know that people look at me and say, 'Why him and why him?' It's like selecting a hockey team. These are the guys that you really want to make sure that when the chips are down and I need somebody at 4 o'clock in the morning, there is no hesitation. There they are. They will beat me to the rink."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com