|Hawks legend Bobby Hull "delivers" the refrigerated truck to Wrigley Field. |
If you saw a crowd of people standing around Wrigley Field in the December cold, toes numbed by snow and ice and fingers reddened by an unexpectedly chilly wind, wouldn't you consider calling an ambulance, or at least a psychologist?
Yet Tuesday afternoon, Wrigley was the hottest place in town for hockey fans. For today, NHL Facilities Operations Manager (or, as commonly called, "Ice Guru") Dan Craig took delivery of a 53-foot ice-making truck that will provide the frozen surface for the second annual Winter Classic, to be held January 1st (1 PM ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio).
When the 22-wheeled trailer, festooned with Red Wings, Blackhawks, NBC, and XM logos, pulled up with horn honking on Waveland Avenue, outside of Wrigley's left-field wall, at around 1:45 p.m., a chilly but eager media lay in wait. Six TV news cameras, a handful of still photographers, several print and electronic journalists, and even some star-struck fans greeted the truck as if it were carrying ten tons of gold instead of a bunch of machinery. To sweeten the entire day, Hawks hero Bobby Hull, "The Golden Jet," was on hand, window down and pulling up in the truck's passenger seat.
Hull, who scored 610 goals for the Blackhawks between 1957 and 1972, recalled attending Bears games at Wrigley in the 60s and hanging around some of the neighborhood's watering holes.
The Jet allowed that it might seem a bit strange to envision hockey at Wrigley Field, but given his childhood, spent 124 miles (200 kilometers) east of Toronto on the north shore of Lake Ontario, playing outdoors feels like no big deal.
"Coming from Canada, [outdoor hockey] was all we played. One hour a week inside, at a rink, but all the other time out on the Bay of Quinte or on the ponds."
Taking in the scene outside of Wrigley Field, Hull voiced one but regret. "I would love to have taken batting practice here ... I stupidly went home every spring without hitting some out here onto Waveland."
"But we're going to get to see the greatest spectacle that the NHL and the Blackhawks have ever put on ... right here at Wrigley Field. I really look forward to it. This will be great. I really would have liked to play in one of these [Winter Classic] games in my prime."
Once the interviews with Hull, Blackhawks CEO John McDonough, and Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney tapered off, Craig opened two doors on the ice-making trailer to reveal, for the benefit of reporters and photographers, the machinery that can manufacture some 300 tons of ice. From the outside, it looked like ... a bunch of machinery that makes ice.
What about the process of getting the truck from Mobile, Alabama, its point of assembly, to Chicago? It took, oddly enough, a transplanted Brit—Mike Hooper, from Torquay, England, near Devon—to man the wheel.
Hooper, self-professed to be "in training to be a Canadian," was surprised and pleased by the reaction he and the truck received. "Driving into Chicago was a real head-turner. It's generated a lot of interest. I've had people waving, hanging out of car windows ... It's my fifteen minutes of fame, I think," he joked.
The ice maker isn't the only huge structure brought to Wrigleyville to help run the Winter Classic. The league has installed, west of the stadium in a parking lot bordering Clark Street, seven portable trailers to serve as temporary offices. So as snow blankets the Windy City, and shoppers prepare for the upcoming holidays, Wrigley Field will become a hotbed of hockey activity, all of it leading to a glorious climax on New Year's Day.Stuart Shea will be covering the ice rink build at Wrigley Field for NHL.com. He is author of "Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography" (Potomac Books) and worked a Major League Baseball contributor at Wrigley Field for a decade.
Author: Stuart Shea | Special to NHL.com