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Craig happy with ice, but knows more work needed

by Dan Rosen /
PITTSBURGH -- The slight gashes in the ice were very new. Dan Craig created them with his skates shortly after noon on Wednesday, keeping a tradition alive of him being the first person to skate on his Winter Classic ice.

This wasn't just a guy taking a little twirl, though.

"It is very calculated," Craig told

Craig, of course, wanted to test his ice. That was priority No. 1.

But he chose between noon and 1 p.m. because come Saturday, that'll be about the time the Capitals and Penguins will be taking the ice for warm-ups prior to the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Craig wanted to know how the ice felt when he emerged out of the shadows and into the sunny areas.

He said he learned that the ice, while close, is not yet ready for NHL players.

"It felt soft and the sun had just been on it for 3 1/2 hours compared to us working on it in the last while with a lot of overcast and constant temperature," Craig said. "When Mother Nature decided to bring the sun out, it helped us try to figure out how it affects what temperature runs back to the truck. As I skated around, because I skated through shadows and into the sunlight, you can definitely feel the difference in the texture of the ice.

"Things happen to us with Mother Nature for a reason, and you just pick up the information and log it out, so when you need it you have it."

Craig obviously knows the weather forecast for Saturday calls for rain, but he can't leave himself vulnerable if the system turns and all of a sudden New Year's Day is gorgeous.

"Everybody has been talking about rain, rain, rain, but what happens if all of a sudden Mother Nature decides we're going to have a brilliant day?" Craig said. "I need to be prepared for that and we had a good test run today."

Craig said his crew was going to spend until around 10 p.m. on Wednesday hosing down the main rink before putting the Zambonis on it Thursday morning. A media skate is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday and that'll give Craig another chance to test the ice. He watches how skates cut the ice and he can tell if it's good or if the temperature in the truck needs to be adjusted.

"We're going to do board signage either later tonight or tomorrow morning and that's when this thing is really going to come out," Craig said.

Craig also is beginning to deal with various other issues surrounding his rink. His responsibilities deal with the entire field of play, and that includes the dasher boards, Plexiglas, benches, penalty boxes, scorer's table, etc.

He spent time Wednesday afternoon trying to figure out a camera placement in the boards for CBC.

"It's not that I deal directly with them, but I definitely help coordinate who goes where and does what so that it doesn't interfere with the play of the game at all," Craig said. "You've asked the question many times, 'Is it stressful?' That's when it's stressful, because everybody's world is very important to them."

And Craig understands that, but with the knowledge that there's nothing more important here than the ice.

"Without us working, this event is not going to happen," he said.

Work on Wednesday included a calculated skate.

"Do I do anything that is not on purpose?" he asked rhetorically.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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