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Frozen Fenway finally takes shape

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"It was probably because of our walk from the hotel to here this morning. Hey, we had to stop for coffee." -- Dan Craig on why his group missed its self-imposed deadline

The ice is down. The blue lines, faceoff dots and creases are in. The boards are up and so is the glass. The hoses are on again.

With less than 24 hours remaining until "The First Skate at Fenway," when legends like Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque will take to the ice at the famous ballpark, the NHL's ice crew for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is steamrolling to their first finish line.

According to Dan Craig, the NHL's Facilities Operations Manager and ice master extraordinaire, the crew missed its pre-set deadline from six months ago by a mere eight minutes, maybe nine.

"Not that I keep count," Craig joked during Thursday's media briefing at Fenway Park. "It was probably because of our walk from the hotel to here this morning. Hey, we had to stop for coffee."

The big moment Thursday was the unveiling of the NHL's own Winter Classic Zambonis, which rolled out onto the field at around 1:30 p.m.

The black machine, sponsored by Verizon, and the light blue one, sponsored by Honda, drove through the opening in center field, gliding atop the rodway along the fence leading straight in front of the famed Green Monster before stopping for photos.

This is the first time the NHL has used its own Zambonis for a Winter Classic. The League rented machines for the previous two Winter Classic games in Buffalo and Chicago.

"I don't want to go to Enterprise," Craig cracked during an exclusive interview with NHL.com.

These machines, which were built specially for the NHL out of the Zamboni warehouse in Brantford,  Ont., are lighter and slightly smaller than the normal machines used at NHL facilities. They weigh roughly 1,500 pounds less, but still have the same acoutrements.

"These models are 400s and they have exactly the same functions that a normal-sized Zamboni has except a tighter turning radius and a slightly smaller dump box," Craig told NHL.com. "They're lighter and that is the main prupose to them. You don't know where we're going in the next 15 years so we want to make sure we have a machine where I can take anywhere. I know these machines now compared to every year us renting a machine where I don't know where it has been or who has been operating it."

Craig was in an especially giddy mood Thursday because he doesn't see anything that will preclude the League from handing the rink over to the Red Sox and Bruins for skating Friday morning.

"As I see it right now we should be (ready to skate Friday morning)," he said during the phone interview. "It's a very cool night here and a very cool day here. We got 21 degress (Fahrenheit) and a windchill that probably takes it down to 12, so we're freezing water pretty quick out here."

Orr and Bourque will be joined on Fenway's ice at 9:30 a.m. Friday by fellow Bruin legends Cam Neely and Terry O'Reilly as well as other alumni and 15 youth hockey players from the Boston area.

The participants for the "First Skate at Fenway" will meet at TD Garden at 8:45 a.m. and head to Fenway Park in a caravan that will consist of trolleys, the Bruins' Hummer and a Zamboni.

Craig, who has been totally focused on creating the rink, was in shock when he learned that both Orr and Bourque will be on his sheet of ice together Friday.

"I just work on the rink and I don't have a whole lot of information," he said. "I knew Ray would be here and I don't know who else. For the crew, that'll be a phenomenal feeling. I knew each would be here, but I didn't know each would be here at the same time."

The Bruins and Red Sox take over the rink for community use until Dec. 23. It will be empty from Dec. 24-25 before Craig's crew returns on the 26th to start putting the finishing touches on it leading to the New Year's Day game between the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"We're almost ready to put this thing in a cruise mode and do it like any other community rink," Craig said. "(On Dec. 26) my flight takes off (out of Minneapolis) at 7:02 in the morning and will be in Boston by 10:45. I will be at the rink and out with the edger shortly after lunch and probably will go another eight hours from there."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com