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Classic ice draws an A-OK from Craig

by Adam Kimelman
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Just before 1 p.m. Sunday, NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig took a personal look at his handiwork.

Rather than from the driver’s seat on a Zamboni or by standing along the boards, he did exactly what the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres will do New Year’s Day at the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

He laced up a pair of skates and took some turns.

It was a short skate, but he gave the ice two frozen thumbs-up.

“It felt good,” said Craig. “Had a good feel to it, a good base to it. It was more for me just to get out there and get a feel for the atmosphere itself as much as the ice. There are a couple little zones in my mind that I wanted to make sure were fine, in front of one of the nets – the other night we had the rain and the wind and I put a little something there that I wanted, to make sure we were as solid as I thought we should be, and everything is good right now.”

Things look good all over Ralph Wilson Stadium. The glass was put in yesterday, and with the benches and penalty boxes finished, the rink now has a fully-constructed look.

“The rink itself looks fairly well ready to go,” continued Craig. “We took the Zamboni on for the first time at 11:30 this morning, did a dry run on it, did a dry shave, brought it off, loaded up the flooder, went out there and dumped on a good load of water before lunch. The second load went on (at 2 p.m.). We’ll be doing that for the rest of this evening, right through up until midnight, and then be back at it first thing in the morning, capping the surface and be ready for practice. We’re ready to go. Let’s drop the puck and play hockey.”

They’ll do a little bit of that Monday, when the teams practice in the afternoon. Craig will get a better judge of things Monday afternoon.

“Definitely have to wait until they practice,” said Craig. “Until we get the guys out there, get a good skate on it, see how it reacts after 10 minutes, after 15 minutes, after 20 minutes, how they (the players) feel. We’ll have to wait until then.”

Also for the first time Sunday, the stadium’s video boards were turned on, and the content was loaded in. There was an introductory video shown of children in Sabres and Penguins sweaters playing on a pond, interspersed with highlights from the current players in action. There also was a run-through of player introductions and music.

Construction is continuing on the entertainment platforms, including the concert stage in one corner, and the NBC and CBC broadcast stages in two other corners. Outside the stadium, the spectator plaza is nearing completion.

And to add to the décor, snow is being trucked in to cover all the plywood and tarps on the field, and to add to the wintry feel.

“The weather forecast for tonight is about 1-2 inches (of snow), which would make me very happy and make it look great outside,” said Don Renzulli, NHL Senior Vice President of Events and Entertainment. “The spectator plaza … we’re continuing to build there. We should be up and ready to go tonight.”

Also at the media briefing, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly reported on the success of the event even before the first puck hits the ice.

“We’ve been asked a lot over the weeks leading up to this what will measure whether this is a successful event or not for the NHL,” said Daly. “In a lot of respects it’s already been a successful event for the League. The response has been tremendous. Ticket sales are an indication of that, but also the excitement you see in Buffalo and around this country and Canada for the game. The anticipation level is good for the game and the clubs. The response of our business partners has been good, and that goes from our television partners and our corporate partners. The Winter Classic is an example of an approach of something we want to do more of.”

Despite all the good feelings and progress that’s been made, no one’s taking anything for granted.

“There’s no relaxing for the next 48 hours,” said Craig. “None. Zero.”

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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