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Early reports positive on Winter Classic rink

by Dan Rosen

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The cold weather and overcast skies here Monday are working in Dan Craig's favor as the NHL's Senior Director of Facilities Operations prepares the ice surface at Michigan Stadium for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Wednesday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC).

Craig said a group of workers were the first to skate on the ice late Sunday night and the reports were good. Craig was not at The Big House to watch the skate or participate because he was helping out at Comerica Park for the Ontario Hockey League doubleheader that was played there Sunday.

"It was solid," Craig said of the reports he received. "Nothing that we haven't dealt with before. It doesn't matter what sheet of ice you have, you want to skate it in. We want two or three days of skating, that's why we would have loved to have the day before as well as [Sunday] night, but we'll work with what we've got."

The sun that covered the rink for most of the afternoon hours Friday and Saturday didn't allow for the ice to be ready for a skate Saturday night, but that's why the NHL built extra days into the schedule to allow for some leeway.

The media covering the Winter Classic are getting their turn on the ice Monday for a regular skate and then a media game. The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs arrive Tuesday for their practices and family skates.

By that point Craig should know if there are any issues he needs to handle before the game on Wednesday.

"It's maintaining what we have and really watching the weather to balance the [refrigeration] truck to the floor and to Mother Nature," Craig said. "It was really warm for a few days and now we're going cold. It's just a balancing act now. It's monitoring the balance of where the ice surface temperature has to be."

The weather is expected to continue to cooperate.

Craig said the latest forecast for Tuesday is calling for a temperature between 18-20 degrees Fahrenheit with the potential for some snow flurries. He said it is expected to dip below the 18-degree mark on game day, but there also could be flurries.

"A little bit cooler, but that's why we play outdoor hockey," Craig said.


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