NEW YORK -- The temperature at Citi Field on Monday was 44 degrees, a bit warmer than it's expected to be when the Buffalo Sabres play the New York Rangers in the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, SN, NHL.TV).
The conditions were ideal for workers, who, with the arrival of the NHL Ice Plant on Sunday, began the process of constructing the rink over the infield at the home of the New York Mets.
Mike Craig, senior manager of facilities operations/hockey operations for the NHL who will oversee the transformation of Citi Field from a baseball stadium to a hockey venue, said the weather between now and New Year's Day is critical to getting the ice down.
"We are dealing with all sorts of weather elements whether it is sun, rain," he said. "We have a little bit of a mix of that in the forecast. Just trying to figure out over time how we are going to run our equipment to accommodate all of that."
The Ice Plant, which contains a 53-foot, 300-ton capacity refrigeration unit, arrived in New York on Sunday after a pit stop in Buffalo on Friday. The unit removes heat from the surface and stabilizes the temperature of the ice.
"We started loading in [Sunday] on the field, laying down our armor deck and we have some temporary staging going down today," Craig said.
"While that is happening, we actually set up the refrigeration truck that you see behind us now. We set that up [Sunday]. We are running some piping today, will continue to do that until [Tuesday]. We have our ice pan system that goes down [Tuesday] and then the following day, we will be putting in our dasher boards so it will look a bit more like a hockey rink out there."
The ice, which is between 1-1.25 inches think in an NHL arena, can be as thick as two inches outdoors because of the more extreme elements.
"We are shooting for a target night of Dec. 20 to be spraying water and actually making ice, so it is really only a few days from now," Craig said. "Within 48 hours, we are hoping to be spraying the first bit of water for the ice."
"The building of the ice usually takes a very long time; it'll take us a good week to eight days to get enough ice down there including our logos, which at this point, we are planning to put down on the morning of the 28th and then we can build up more ice there and get ready for the first practice."
The target date of Dec. 28 for the ice surface to be in place is four days before the game and three days before the Rangers and Sabres are scheduled to practice on New Year's Eve.
It likely won't be as cold in New York on New Year's Day as it was in Ottawa on Saturday, when the Ottawa Senators defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 at Lansdowne Park in a game that started with a temperature of 12.5 degrees.
"When we are talking about the temperature they experienced compared to what we are forecasting to see, it's really how we manipulate the truck and how we prepare the ice accordingly," Craig said.
The temperature at puck drop for the 2017 Winter Classic at Busch Stadium in St. Louis between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues on Jan. 2 was 46 degrees; it was 41 degrees at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts for the 2016 game between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 1.
"I think that they are looking right around 35-40 degrees is kind of what they are forecasting at this point which is fairly consistent between here and [Jan. 1]," Craig said. "We'll have a couple of warmer days but we are definitely prepared for that."
Fans can follow the entire rink-building process on NHL Social, NHL.com and NHL Network.