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Gillette Stadium ice sees first action, set for Classic

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Dan Craig finally saw some unfamiliar faces enjoying themselves on the rink he and his crew have built at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday. It was a moment he won't soon forget.

The Boston Bruins were here for a family skate in the afternoon and Craig, the NHL's senior director of facility operations and hockey operations, marveled at the scene.

"Did you see the kids?" Craig said. "Come on. Come on. That was awesome. That's what it's all about right there. Forget the big boys, look at the kids. It's priceless to get the families out there to really, really enjoy it."

Craig will get to see a lot more on Thursday, when the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens practice in advance of the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Friday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports). In addition, the NHL is hosting the Outdoor Women's Classic presented by Scotiabank and the NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game presented by Molson Canadian at Gillette Stadium.

Craig said the ice is ready for it all.

"We're in good shape," he said. "A little bit of a cleanup to do later [Wednesday night], but we're going to be good [Thursday] for practice and then we'll see what Mother Nature throws at us for game day."

The forecast for Friday in Foxborough is calling for mostly sunny skies with a high of 42 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 25, according to weather.com. Those conditions should work just fine for the game, Craig said.

It'll actually be a nice change from what Craig and the crews have been dealing with the past few days, when the weather has turned on them several times and forced them to deal with wind, rain, sleet, snow and a significant drop in temperature.

"You have a plan and all of a sudden Mother Nature decides she is going to do something else," Craig said. "The next thing you know you have to do a management seminar and say, 'OK, guys, we're in a different direction.'"

"[Wednesday] is the calmest day we've had here," Craig later said. "[Tuesday], all of a sudden the wind came up and shifted, the sleet started going, rain started coming, and you're just like, 'Wow.' You just make changes as you go."

Craig said patience is the key. He said he learned that six years ago, when he did a rink build for the Winter Classic game at Fenway Park in Boston.

"I have to tell the guys to tell me, 'Be patient, be patient. We have a program, stay with it, be patient and we'll be fine,'" Craig said. "Things change and you have to be patient and ride it out."

He got to see some of his patience pay off on Wednesday, when the families of the Bruins players took their memorable twirl at Gillette Stadium. Craig will get a better study of how his ice is doing Thursday, when the events will run one after another with barely a break in between.

The Bruins are scheduled to practice at 11 a.m. ET. The Canadiens go on at 12:30. The women's game is scheduled for 2 p.m. and puck drop for the alumni game is expected to happen around 3:30 p.m.

"If we have a day like today, perfect," Craig said. "Let's go. Drop the puck. Bring the boys in. Put their equipment on. Let's get at it."

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