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Excitement building as Classic truck approaches

by David Kalan
As the NHL's mobile ice-making plant continues to roll west ahead of the 2011 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic, temperatures took a nosedive during Monday's stop at a Canadian Tire in Saskatoon, Sask.

"It's a little frigid," NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig said via telephone Monday afternoon. "Being the good Canadian that I am, maybe I've just been away too long."

While the provinces of western Canada have seen more than their fair share of cold days, Monday's chill hardly was something to brush off, as temperatures dipped down to minus-11 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-23.8 Celsius), with a wind chill that made it feel significantly colder. However, the hearty souls of south-central Saskatchewan were undeterred from attending Monday's event. Craig reported that despite the weather a number of people still were coming to view the NHL's mobile rink-building factory and ask about preparations Craig and his crew will be making for Feb. 20, when the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens will meet at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

"For a Monday morning the foot traffic's a little light, but the interest is there," Craig said. "We've got the truck right out front and people are stopping by to say hi, coming back inside to grab a little bit of Tim Hortons coffee and go back outside and do a little more visiting."

For Craig and company, Monday's stop in Saskatoon kicks off the homestretch of their journey with the NHL's ice truck. On Monday night the truck will stop in Edmonton before turning south and arriving in Calgary on Wednesday afternoon.

The trek from Saskatoon to Edmonton and then down to Calgary is roughly 512 miles, but the distance has done little to inhibit the excitement across western Canada.

"You definitely feel it building," Craig said. "We're in a hockey hotbed coming through this particular area. Just about every second town you come to has a good hockey team coming out of it."

The frigid weather in Saskatoon didn't temper the excitement for the outdoor game. However, it is a concern for Craig as his team gets ready to build its second outdoor rink in the past two months. The 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field encountered significantly warmer weather than expected along with rain, which made the task that much more challenging and eventually prompted puck drop to be delayed from 1 p.m. to the evening hours when the rain slowed and temperatures dropped. Craig described the weather for the Heritage Classic as a day-to-day concern with regular updates coming "every morning and every evening," but with forecasts looking promising, he is optimistic the weather will provide optimal conditions.

If nothing else, the experience of dealing with a brutal cold snap at the original Heritage Classic, in Edmonton in 2003, as well as the League's improved ice-making technology, will serve the crews well as they prepare one of the major highlights of the NHL calendar.

"Right now the forecast is telling us we're going to be good right up until game time," Craig said. "I know the best sheet of ice that we've had so far was the (2010) Winter Classic in Boston and there's information that we got out of Boston that you try to duplicate.

"Hopefully Mother Nature really enjoys our game."
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