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Ice makers in L.A. face new challenges

by Shawn P. Roarke

LOS ANGELES -- Southern California has thrown a whole new set of variables for Dan Craig and his ice-making crew to figure out. So far, they've met the challenge.

"It doesn't matter what event we go to, we study the weather trends that come through," said Craig, the NHL's Senior Director of Facilities Operations and the man responsible for making an ice surface in the middle of the infield at Dodger Stadium, which will host the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. "I think that's one of the things we have been very diligent on. We know how to react to a situation when it does arise."

Instead of dealing with brutal cold, heavy winds and snow, all of which have plagued previous outdoor ice builds by Craig, this rink build has featured obstacles of a very different nature. Instead of wintry conditions, Craig and his crew are figuring out how to deal with the challenges presented by slightly higher-than-expected temperatures and direct sunlight.

The solution has featured reflective blankets being used during the day and the crew working the overnight shift on a regular basis. To say these were not the issues Craig faced a month ago as he built out the ice surface at Michigan Stadium for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic would be an understatement.

"I don't even remember the Winter Classic, it was that long ago," Craig said, laughing heartily. "Totally different because at that point at the Winter Classic, the [ice] truck wasn't even running. We were running the heater because it was getting so cold at night, so the whole read-and-react was totally on the opposite scale to what this is all about. The truck is running all the time until we cover [the ice] up. In Ann Arbor, the truck didn't even run one night, it was just the heater."

Despite the challenges, Craig believes the ice is on schedule to be ready for the game between the Ducks and the Kings on Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC), the first NHL regular-season outdoor game played west of the Mississippi River.

Despite the overcast skies Tuesday, Craig's group stayed patient. The reflective mats stayed on the ice for the majority of the day before being removed at 3 p.m. It is part of the playbook Craig has accumulated during his time in Los Angeles.

"We know that when the cloud cover does break, it is going to jump from 74 [degrees] back up to 80 probably, within the hour," he said. "That's why you don't take changes, you stay with the program that everyone set up and we are going to be in good shape."

From Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, the crew will put another 2,500 gallons of water on the surface, building out a little more depth for the ice. Each of the workers will log close to five miles in the process of spraying all that water.

The ice will get its first live-action test Wednesday as the media skates on it in the late afternoon as a precursor to a media game featuring a number of former players from the Kings and a few other celebrities.

Two days later, the Kings and Ducks will hold team practices on the surface. On Saturday night, the ice will take center stage for the game itself before a big crowd at Dodger Stadium and national TV audiences in the United States and Canada.

Craig would not be upset if the weather conditions Tuesday night - overcast with a slight breeze and temperatures in the mid-60s - were repeated for the game Saturday. Selfishly, he wouldn't mind if it were even cooler.

"This is good [weather]," he said. "However, three or four days ago we have had even better. By the time we were ready to drop the puck, we were below 55 degrees. That's what I am really looking forward to is having the bottom drop out. I know the people in the stands won't enjoy it that much, but if it gets below 55 degrees we are just going to have an absolutely beautiful night here."

He thinks he might get what he wants from the forecasts he is seeing.

"We're saying 55 to 60 by 7:30 p.m., so that's what we are looking for," Craig said.

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