PITTSBURGH -- Dan Craig resorted to invention to get all of the rain water off the ice surface at Heinz Field on Saturday morning.
With the help of mechanics on his ice crew, Craig, who has been in the ice business for more than three decades, turned the ice-making machine into a giant wet vac to suck up the rain water instead of freezing it.
"We took over 3,600 gallons off the floor with the machines, maybe even closer to 3,800, and whatever might have leaked out the sidewalls," Craig told NHL.com three hours before the opening faceoff for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Saturday evening. "There was a lot of water out there. It was raining pretty good here this morning, from about 7 through until 9. It came through in sheets."
The ice crew has spent its time since the water removal manicuring the ice sheet by playing with the temperature levels in the refrigeration truck outside the stadium. Pipes run from the truck to the sub-floor of the rink and send a fluid called glycol to freeze the water that is sprayed down by Craig's ice crew.
The goal temperature is between 22 to 24 degrees Fahrenheit, but Craig said all he needs for Saturday night's 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is a frozen sheet. They could do that in about a half-hour, but if you "fast freeze" the surface, Craig said, the ice will become brittle and crack.
A cold front is expected to come through Pittsburgh after 6 p.m. Saturday night to drop the air temperature to 42 degrees, which Craig said would be a big help.
"I was just down there and moved it another three-tenths of a degree," Craig said. "We need to manipulate it because the air up here is still at 52 degrees right now, and if I would have been told that I'm making ice outdoors at 52 degrees I would have said there's not a hope that would happen on Jan. 1. But here we are."
Craig said he has never had to create an NHL ice sheet in rain and warmth.
"Blizzards? Yes. Snow banks? Yes," he said. "Rain like this? No."
He said Mother Nature has never tested him the way she has Saturday.
"By far, this is as big of a challenge as anything that has been presented," he said. "That's why we have the crew we have and with the knowledge we have out there. We get everybody's ideas on the table and we mix them all up. Hopefully, everything comes out as the winning solution here."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl