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Sense of family serves ice crew well at Winter Classic

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Sense of family serves ice crew well at Winter Classic
The ice crew for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field has a sense of family during their hard work.
PITTSBURGH -- Three of the brothers in this family run their own NHL rinks. Two are full-time mechanics back in Alberta. Two more hail from British Columbia, where they met each other working at, what else, an ice rink. Two are rookies, fresh-faced and in their early 20s with nothing but potential.
 
And, of course, we can't forget about the guys in charge, parents if you will. They steer the family in the right direction.
 
They're unique and they're fun. They're pranksters, but hard workers. They're close and they really love each other.
 
They are the ice crew for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field, and they are a blast.

"It's a team," NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig, king of the crew, told NHL.com. "Just like a hockey team you have to go with the right personalities and abilities. You never know what is going to get thrown at you and I can't be here 24 hours a day. Even though people think I am, I'm not. I rely very heavily on my entire crew because I'm going in 15 different directions and the job still has to get done."
 
Craig handpicked this A-list crew. He didn't go for just the ice makers, guys with years of experience in the business. He went for guys who can think on their feet and bring a myriad of skills to the table.
 
"If you walk around the corner you'll see a pump torn apart right now and we can't paint white without that pump, and I don't have time to tear apart the pump, as you notice," Craig said. "Guess what? The pump still has to be torn apart and fixed. So, go fix the pump. That's what they're here for."
 
One of the guys working on that pump was Rob Block, Craig's oldest friend from Jasper, Alta. Conveniently, Block is a mechanic. Until the Winter Classic in Chicago two years ago, Block had never worked on an ice crew.
 
Doesn't matter. He is a thinker and a fixer, and now he knows how to make ice, too.
 
Ditto for Jake Fernholz, a 21-year-old who works as a mechanic at a motor sports dealership in Stillwater, Minn.
 
Craig has known the kid for his whole life, so he knew Fernholz would fit in with the group because he's fun, jovial, a worker and someone who can think outside the box to come up with solutions to problems that inevitably happen.
 
The fact that he never sprayed water to make ice didn't matter. He's learning now. It's not exactly rocket science.
 
"My first thought when Dan asked me was wouldn't you want to pick somebody better and more qualified to do it?" Fernholz told NHL.com. "His response was, 'We have enough people that have knowledge so we don't need more of that. We want to build a good team that has good relationships with each other.'
 
"Dan is really good at figuring out people's personalities and putting the right people together. These guys are the type of people that I would find myself hanging out with at home."
 
Save for Fernholz and Eric King, the other rookie in the group who Craig called "our future," the NHL's iceman has worked with every member of his crew at one point or another.
 
He met Cal Waschuk when the two worked together in Edmonton at Rexall Place -- then Northlands Coliseum --. Aaron Waschuk, a diesel mechanic, is Cal's son.
 

"It's a team. Just like a hockey team you have to go with the right personalities and abilities. You never know what is going to get thrown at you."
-- Dan Craig

Travis Larson, the ice manager at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., started working with Craig at the Winter Classic in Chicago. So did Pat Finch, who has worked with the ice at United Center for 16 years.
 
Craig has known Don Moffatt for years, and now Moffatt is Craig's right-hand man at the NHL. He's the League's Facilities Operations Supervisor.
 
Mike Craig, Dan's son, has worked with his dad on the previous two Winter Classics, the Heritage Classic in Edmonton and the last three Olympics. He brought his buddy, Jeff Fletcher, to Pittsburgh this year. Craig knows Fletcher from the Heritage Classic and the Olympics in Vancouver.
 
Mike Martin joined the crew Monday. He's one of the ice technicians at Consol Energy Center and because this is his town he gets the opportunity to work on this project.
 
"It's big hugs when we get together," Mike Craig told NHL.com. "We don't know each other's families, but we do through conversations and we catch up that way. We spend a short amount of time together but a lot of time together, if that makes sense. We're basically just one big family. We eat together. We work together. We do everything together for these 10 days or so."
 
The friendships continue on outside of the close quarters of the Winter Classic.
 
Finch said he received text messages from a lot of the guys wishing him and the Blackhawks good luck before the Stanley Cup Final. Larson said he's Facebook friends with Finch. Mike Craig said he tries to stay in touch with all of the guys at least once or twice throughout the year.
 
"We e-mail and call each other throughout the year," Mike Craig said. "Some friends and I just went down to Chicago and it was more personal, just to catch a game, but I made sure to connect with Pat."
 
They all talk about Francois Martindale, another key member of the crew who couldn't be here this year because of his duties as the ice technician at Bell Centre in Montreal.
 
Martindale will join the crew in Calgary for the Heritage Classic. Finch can't be there, but he will be in spirit. He might even get a call for advice if they have an issue that they know he can handle.
 
"If we weren't like a family it wouldn't work out," Finch told NHL.com. "If you have somebody who is sour grapes and complains all the time it just makes a hard job even harder. We whistle while we work. We joke and we have fun, but at the same time we're getting the task at hand done, getting things ready for the Classic."
 
The crew has some strict rules. For instance, there's a price to pay if you fall when you're on the ice with them.
 
"If you fall, it's a case of beer," Finch said. "Yup. A couple of the HBO guys filming us fell and we were like, 'Oh, that's a case of beer.' They were like, 'Really?' We're like, 'Yup.' Then he fell again. And, there are two cases of beer over there. We're going to have a beer with them, have some fun with them and it's all good."
 
On New Year's Day there will be the Penguins, the Capitals and the ice crew.
 
They need each other to turn the Winter Classic into an Instant Classic.
 
"We're always usually laughing about something," Larson told NHL.com. "We keep it jovial, happy and we get her done."
 
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl