Dan Craig has been working with ice for more than 30 years. He's seen it all during that time.
Warm temperatures, sub-zero temperatures, snow, rain and every combination imaginable in just about every location possible.
So with the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic coming to Calgary, the native of Jasper, Alberta, is probably more comfortable than ever. After all, Craig grew up 5 hours from McMahon Stadium, which will host the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames on Feb. 20, so he must have a terrific handle on the area's weather conditions.
The problem with Calgary in late-February, however, is the weather is about as unpredictable as it gets.
"You never know what you're going to get," said Craig, the NHL's Facilities Operations Manager who sounded more like Forrest Gump on Monday. "I talked to my brother, and you're talking about 40-degree change in two days. You just deal with what you deal with when you wake up in the morning. You just put on your coveralls and you go to work and you make things happen."
Craig doesn't know what he's going to get on that Sunday afternoon, but he's been through it all when it comes to outdoor hockey.
He dealt with freezing temperatures for the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton, heavy snow for the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo and steady rain coupled with balmy conditions for 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. But preparing for the unpredictable is a daunting task for anyone, even someone as experienced as Craig.
That's why with Craig facing a lot of different weather possibilities for this year's Heritage Classic, he's preparing for them all.
"We have purchased an in line heater, which is in conjunction with the truck that we have," said Craig, who refers to temperatures in Celsius. "So we have a refrigeration truck, but at the same time within the line that goes to the ice floor, we now have a heater. So if it does get into the minus-15, minus-18, the heater does kick in so that the lower end of the ice doesn't get too brittle, too dehydrated, so that we're able to maintain an NHL-caliber surface.
"Compared to Edmonton, you know, it was very cold. And when it gets that cold, it starts getting a little chunky out there, starts breaking away underneath their feet. So we want to make sure we get a heat load up on top and try to keep the top end as close to that minus-5, minus-6 temperature that we possibly can."
Weather forecasts for the next two weeks are available, and so far, Craig likes what he sees both for his crew during the building of the rink and for the players on gameday.
"I can tell you now that our setup day is going to be plus-4 on the 10th, plus-5 on the Saturday, plus-5 on the Sunday, minus-1 on Monday," Craig said. "I watch it the long-term weather forecast quite closely. It's not only the ice making but handling the crews and making sure that our crews, our personnel are safe and secure, whatever weather that we are going to have to work through.
"So it's not only the players' safety we're concerned with, but it's also our workers, as we're preparing for the event."
The potential perfect conditions for the ice crew and players could result in the perfect conditions for an explosive game, too.
"You never know what you're going to get. You're talking about 40-degree change in two days. You just deal with what you deal with when you wake up in the morning. You just put on your coveralls and you go to work and you make things happen."
-- Dan Craig
"It's going to be very fast," Craig said. "It's going to be a very fast sheet of ice. And that's why we're kind of looking really good at the weather right now with it being minus-5 and minus-6 because that's our ideal temperature for the guys to skate on. And we're looking for a very fast surface for these guys to play the best game that they can have on that particular day."
Craig said the performance of the ice at the 2011 Winter Classic -- where the temperature hovered in the 50s all day -- showed his ice could handle an outdoor game in warmer climate.
"I do speak on behalf of what we can do for ice making, and I think that one of the reasons that we built our own refrigeration system and have the panels and have the whole deployable trucks coming down the road is that we are prepared to go into different climate areas," Craig said. "So when the Commissioner and Colin Campbell go and discuss what areas are possible for us to go into, they now realize that the truck can handle a warmer trend."
With the Heritage Classic still more than 12 days away and the temperamental Calgary weather looming, Craig could get a warm weather game sooner than anyone expected.Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Author: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer