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Citizens Bank provides new challenges for Craig

by Dan Rosen
The ice truck is ready to roll out of Toronto. Dan Craig is ready to build another rink for the National Hockey League's signature regular season game.

"Let's take the truck out and put it to work," Craig excitedly told

He'll have to wait a couple of months, but Craig, the League's ice guru, has his plans mapped out for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. He can't wait to tackle yet another challenge.

The League is expected to take over the Phillies' home park on Dec. 19 and Craig is responsible for having the rink ready for a Flyers-Rangers alumni game on Dec. 31. The current Rangers and Flyers will play the fifth Winter Classic game and seventh regular-season outdoor game in NHL history on Jan. 2.

"I always look forward to this," Craig said. "Every one of them is going to be a challenge, but it's always a great group of people to work with. I look forward to the two-and-a-half to three weeks that I get to spend with a lot of people that work this event on a regular basis. And it's a major event. Next to the Stanley Cup Final, what more would you want to do?"

NHL ice guru Dan Craig is ready to get to work for the 2012 Winter Classic. (Getty Images)
Adding to Craig's excitement is the venue he gets to work in.

Citizens Bank Park is the third baseball stadium to host a Winter Classic, but the first built in the post-World War I era.

Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, the iconic ballparks which hosted previous Winter Classic games, were built in 1914 and 1912, respectively. Citizens Bank Park opened its doors on April 3, 2004, so it provides all the modern-day amenities that Craig and his staff didn't have in Chicago and Boston.

That said, there are already several challenges that Craig understands he will face as soon as he gets into the stadium on Dec. 19.

For instance, the 23-feet of elevation from the field level to beyond the center field fence, where the NHL's refrigeration truck will be parked, is the most Craig has worked with in building an NHL rink. He also anticipates the truck will be parked 425 feet from the playing surface, which is the furthest distance away a refrigeration unit has ever been from the ice surface for an NHL game.

Craig did work the NCAA Frozen Four at Detroit's Ford Field in 2010, however, and said the elevation there was 48 feet and the refrigeration unit was almost 500 feet away from the rink.

"I know it can work, but we just have to do the right calculations in the truck," Craig said. "That's why we built the truck. It's a calculation thing that we have to do to make sure everything is in the proper working order."

Craig said he's planning to connect the refrigeration truck to the rink with piping that will run through the main concourse in the outfield and then down onto the field. The piping, which is necessary to pump the coolant that keeps the ice frozen, will be visible, but the League is still deciding if it wants to run it on the floor or fly it on scaffolding through the main concourse.


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A similar technique was used at Fenway Park in 2009. The piping was anchored to the bottom of the stands.

"We don't have any other choice," Craig said.

As always, Craig is anticipating Mother Nature throwing him curveball after curveball throughout his time in Philadelphia. But that's nothing new for him and his veteran staff, most of which has been together since the 2009 Winter Classic game in Chicago.

They've dealt with snow, rain, unseasonable warmth and blinding sunlight -- and yet the rink is always ready on time and the Winter Classic has never been postponed. The only hiccup happened last season, when rain pushed back the start time of the game at Heinz Field between the Penguins and Capitals to 7 p.m.

Even then, Craig and his crew had the ice ready and the primetime event drew the best ratings in Winter Classic history and became the most-watched regular-season game in 36 years, with 4.5 million households tuning in.

"We all expect just about anything now. The whole crew does," Craig said. "The first year I don't think they really understood what we'd be up against, but after we got through Boston, when it went down to 4 degrees, they got it. We've had everything. They're very prepared. Whatever Mother Nature gives us, we wake up that day and go to work."

If all goes to plan, they won't be going to work on Dec. 24 or Dec. 25. Craig hopes the added days built into the build-out schedule due to the event being at a baseball stadium instead of a football stadium will allow his crew to go home to their families for Christmas.

They all had to stay in Pittsburgh through the holiday last year, and they celebrated by having Christmas dinner together at the stadium after midnight.

"I have a feeling that it's going to be like it was in Chicago, where we put the ice pans down, built the first inch of ice and then we all went home for Christmas," Craig said. "We came back, built up the ice, painted white and did all the lines and logos. It's just so much better that they'll all get to go home for Christmas."

Craig said the rink will still be watched by three crew members from the Philadelphia area, and he'll be constantly checking his Blackberry, which is programmed to receive updates on the ice conditions through monitors built into the rink.

Craig also said the League has been working closely with the unions in both Citizens Bank Park and Wells Fargo Center in order to get anybody that wants to work on the project involved in some way.

"We bring it to the city and we want everyone involved," Craig said. "It's a great event."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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