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Bitter cold threatens Heritage ice surface

by Dave Lozo

CALGARY -- Just when it looked like Dan Craig could catch his breath after the lines and logos were painted on the ice at McMahon Stadium on Thursday, yet another obstacle was placed in his way Friday morning.

The media in town to cover the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic were scheduled to play a friendly game at 9 a.m., but it was canceled because of cracks in the ice caused by overnight temperatures that bottomed out at -25 degrees Celsius. But even if the ice hadn't cracked, said Craig, it wasn't a good idea for people to be out in those sub-freezing temperatures.

"It wouldn't have been safe to skate on," said Craig, the NHL's Facilities Operations Manager. "It wasn’t a crisis, but it was a challenge."

By 5 p.m., Craig had the ice in good enough condition for his crew to skate on it. The ice required Craig's crew to wait for the sun, which had been an enemy earlier in the week, to rise and raise the temperature in the morning. Hot water was also sprayed on the ice, getting it back to a place that made it OK for skating.

"We did a lot of things," said Craig, whose day once again started at 6 a.m. "We gave it four good loads of water. It took us until after lunch to get OK. By then it was considered under control."

Craig said the forecast calls for more of the same extremely low temperatures Saturday and Sunday, which means his crew will have to go through the same process it did Friday.

Saturday's forecast from the Weather Channel calls for sunny skies and temperatures that will hover around minus-10 for the afternoon practices for the Canadians and Flames, as well as the late afternoon Alumni Game at McMahon Stadium. Sunday also calls for temps right around -10, as well as partly cloudy skies.

When told what the temperatures would be for Sunday's game," Calgary coach Brent Sutter just smiles. "Sounds like perfect hockey weather to me," he said.

Craig and his crew, however, will have a fair bit of work -- in trying conditions -- remaining to make sure the ice is in the proper condition to make Sunday's game perfect.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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