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HSBC ice crew doing double duty for AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic

by Dan Rosen

Workers from the HSBC Arena's ice crew are putting in double duty to get Ralph Wilson Stadium ready for Tuesday's game.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- If NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig is the hardest working man in hockey this week, then Brian Drabek and his staff aren’t far behind.

Drabek is the assistant chief engineer at the HSBC Arena, the home of the Buffalo Sabres. Come New Year’s Day, Ralph Wilson Stadium also will be the home of the Sabres, and to make that a reality Drabek has loaned members of his staff to Craig.

“Everything involved with the actual operation end of it, from the ice level, our ice crew will be manning the functions,” Drabek, who worked with Craig at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, told “Obviously it’s really an exciting project and a great showcase. If anything, I had some reservations about the weather. It looks like it is cooperating.”

Due to Buffalo’s home game against the Ottawa Senators Wednesday night, the ice crew from the HSBC Arena didn’t arrive at Ralph Wilson Stadium until Thursday morning to assist in the preparations for the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

Craig’s staff, which has been working nearly round-the-clock since the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants left the field this past Sunday, will have the base and first inch of ice finished by Friday morning. That’s when the HSBC Arena crew takes over.

They have the task of putting the finishing touches on the final product North America will see in living color Tuesday afternoon on either NBC, CBC or RDS.

They will paint the ice white, paint the lines and logos, and put the final three-quarters of an inch of ice on to seal the rink.

During the game the HSBC crew will be operating as if it were a normal Sabres game at their own arena, including all the ice cuts.

These are the same tasks they have done numerous times over at their home arena, only now the HSBC Arena crew has to work with Mother Nature, too.

“Brian has committed the staff to me, and Brian really wants to be here, but he has a commitment to the Sabres and his facility,” Craig told “He will handle his side as a professional and he will give me as many people as I can use so all those people will be part of this.”

Drabek, who spoke to via cell phone because he was working at the HSBC Arena, said roughly eight members of his staff will work in shifts. Drabek was hoping to make it over to the stadium Thursday night to assist in the project.

He said he would have to be at the arena on Sunday if the Sabres decide to hold a practice, but there is nothing scheduled at the arena between now and than.

“The team left to go on the road for a couple of games and they’re not back until Sunday (for a possible practice), so there is no conflict between the two facilities right now,” Drabek said. “There is obviously an additional amount of time being put in (by his staff), but the same thing could be if we had multiple ice events in a row. The biggest challenge is being outside in the elements instead of being in the arena.”

Craig is used to working this way. He said he worked with the staff from Rexall Place in Edmonton for the Heritage Classic, which was held at Commonwealth Stadium in 2003.

“It was definitely planned this way,” Craig said. “If they didn’t have a home game (Wednesday night), they would have been in here helping the guys do the install, but they all wanted to be here and to be part of this. I made sure we had all the local people we could get our hands on who wanted to be here.”

Even if it meant working some overtime hours.

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