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Behind the ice

by Dan Rosen

Ralph Wilson Stadium
Creating the playing surface for the NHL Winter Classic is an intricate process that involves up to up 20 workers operating in 12-hour shifts totaling more than 1,000 man-hours by the time the final whistle blows on New Year's Day.

Behind it all is Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operations manager.

Craig spent time with to pore over the details that go into creating the most important element of the Winter Classic -- the ice.

* Before even thinking about ice, Craig said the workers have to level the field, which has a nine-inch crown from side to side. However, because the hockey rink isn't as wide as the football field, Craig said they only have to account for six inches on each side. To do that, they have heavy-duty Styrofoam insulation cut to taper the field.

* Next, the workers will put three inches of plywood on top of the insulation. Roughly 2,500 sheets of plywood at three-quarters of an inch thick will be used.

* They then will layer plastic over the plywood before installing the mats, or piping system, which is hooked into headers that connect to the refrigeration unit.

Two 400-ton refrigeration units were delivered to Ralph Wilson Stadium at 9 a.m. on Dec. 19.

* Once the pipes are down the workers will spread roughly 100 cubic yards of sand between them. The sand base will be about an inch thick. In Edmonton for the Heritage Classic, the sand was three inches thick.

* The hope is to have the boards already in place before the sand is laid out, but if not, Craig said the two tasks will be done simultaneously. Craig said it requires up to 260 man-hours to install the boards and eventually the safety glass.

* The sand gets saturated overnight and eventually freezes solid.

* To create the ice, the workers will use hoses that spray a mist. Eventually an inch of ice will be built before it can be painted white. They then will add the lines, circles and logos.

* Finally, another three-quarters of an inch of ice is added, making the surface an inch and three-quarters before it's fine-tuned with shaves and hot floods so the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres can practice on it the day before the game.

-- Dan Rosen

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