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Ice crew beats outdoor elements

by Dan Rosen
CHICAGO -- With a smile on his face and a souvenir in his hand, NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig spoke like the happiest guy in Chicago roughly an hour after the game.

He was definitely the most relieved employee of the National Hockey League.
Craig and his crew pulled it off Thursday, and nothing was more satisfying for him than to hear that the million-dollar athletes that played in Thursday's Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 felt the ice he made at Wrigley Field played just like a normal game.

"That is my job. That is the bottom line and you can't ask for anything more than that," Craig told "When we set out to do a project like this the last thing you want the guys thinking about is an ice surface or the elements.

"My hat is off to the crew that we put together here from productions, the refrigeration side and the operations side. They pulled it together and let the guys feel at home and play the game the way it is supposed to be played."

Craig, normally never one to reflect on a job immediately after he finishes it, was planning a special dinner Thursday night with the people closest to him to do exactly that.

He won't be leaving Chicago until Jan. 7 because there are still some corporate events on the ice during the next two days and then his crew has to pack up all the equipment and turn Wrigley Field into a baseball stadium once again.


But he let his hair down once the final buzzer sounded Thursday.

"My wife is in town and my best friend from high school and his wife came," Craig said. "My son is here. Unfortunately my other son couldn't be here, but we are going to get a lot of guys together and we'll go have a little dinner and we're going to reflect.

"The thing is it doesn't hit you right away what you have accomplished," Craig continued. "I'll wake up (Friday) morning and I'll look at the paper and I think that's when it really will start sinking in. I understand the elements and I understand what we have done as a crew here. When you see this many people enjoying the game, never mind millions of people that enjoy it on network (TV); we did exactly what we needed to be done here."

Craig arrived at Wrigley Field just after 4 a.m. Thursday morning. He said he went up to the level just below the press box and began to walk around. Just as it was game day for the Blackhawks and Red Wings, it was for Craig, too.

"I was walking the building, just getting a feel for everything," Craig said. "You never say it's over until the buzzer."

The weather -- 31.9 degrees Fahrenheit with overcast skies at the start of the game -- was "as ideal as it could get," Craig said. "We only had one compressor running half the time. Mother Nature did what she had to do and we had an awesome, awesome time."

Craig even allowed himself to soak up the atmosphere, which is something he couldn't afford to do in Buffalo last year when he became more known for his numerous appearances on the ice to fix gashes.

"I was able to sit back and kind of take in the elements, the festivities, from the National Anthem to the flyover to the people cheering their teams on," Craig said. "Oh, it was electric. The anthems just sent chills down your spine. Then you take a deep breath and say, 'OK, game on. This is it.' "

Craig never stopped moving throughout the game, but he didn't really care about the plays being made or the goals being scored. He was watching the ice and taking in how the pucks and skates were reacting to it.

"I started at the Zamboni door and then I walked around the rink to the opposite side because we had guys coming off the rink on both ends," he said. "I was in constant communication with guys on both ends of the rink and I was going down and looking at the computer to make sure the temperature was where we needed it to be. I went back to the refrigeration trailer to talk to the mechanic back there. I was constantly in motion."

That's how he and his crew felt for the past two days as Chicago got hit with biting cold weather. The temperatures dropped into single digits overnight, creating some stress fractures in the ice and freezing the hoses the crew needed to use to fix them.

The frigid temperatures all came after snow, then sleet, then rain hit the Chicago area this week, making the crew work overtime to get the job done.

"Mother Nature threw at us all that she was prepared to throw at us and God only gives you what you can endure," Craig said. "I think the last 36 hours was the most that our guys could endure. The weather changed to our favor and the boys pulled it together, pulled it off. The crew did an awesome, awesome job."

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