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Despite snow, ice declared ready for Winter Classic

by Shawn P. Roarke

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic approaches Wednesday, snow has painted an impressive picture. An overnight storm stretching into Wednesday morning has blanketed Michigan Stadium in white, painting the perfect snow-globe picture for hockey's biggest showcase.

The snow, however, presents some challenges for Dan Craig, the man responsible for the ice that will host the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1 p.m. faceoff (NBC, CBC, RDS).

But, Craig said Wednesday morning that the ice surface will be ready.

"We're good, we're solid," said the NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations.

Craig woke up early Wednesday morning to accumulations of about an inch of snow on the ice, but already had a plan to deal with it.

First, the ice crew shoveled the surface clean, which took about two hours. Once the ice was cleaned of the majority of the snow, the crew did a heavy spray to start preparing the surface for game play.

Then, the ice-resurfacing machines were brought out about 10:30 a.m. to do a dry shave of the freshly flooded surface.

Craig admitted that the snow, while idyllic for the visuals, has produced some extra work for his staff. But he had no complaints, especially after the praise he received for the condition of the ice surface after team practices here Tuesday.

"That's what we are here for, to have the best surface because we do have the best players and this is the biggest show we have ever put on," Craig said.

Though Craig and his staff were working hard to make the surface as perfect as possible, the hockey faithful were already gathering to celebrate the sport they love.

Tailgaters were already in full force by 8 a.m. and the NHL's Spectator Plaza, a hockey fan fest adjacent to the stadium, opened at 9 a.m., and was quickly flooded with fans sporting the red of Detroit and the blue of Toronto. Gates to the stadium, meanwhile, opened at 10 a.m., three hours before faceoff, and some eager fans quickly found their seats in Michigan's famous bowl and settled in for a hockey celebration that won't soon be forgotten.

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