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Mike Craig says Heritage Classic ice is on schedule

by Tal Pinchevsky

VANCOUVER -- NHL senior manager of facilities operations Mike Craig hasn't actually been working on making ice outdoors for two straight months. It just feels that way sometimes.

After prepping ice for three outdoor games since Jan. 1, Craig and his crew took over BC Place this week and have been building the playing surface for the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic between the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators on Sunday. Despite the long hours, Craig is enjoying certain comforts at the stadium, which features a retractable roof.

"[It's a] completely different environment. We're now in a controlled environment, but we have a tight deadline," Craig said Thursday. "It's a big help. We don't have any big weather surprises. We looked over the production schedule for this and every hour is accounted for. We're right on target where we need to be."

Craig has been busy for the past two months. Before coming to Vancouver, he worked on the ice for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on New Year's Day, as well as the two Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium in late January.

His crew has been especially busy in Vancouver, where two groups have been alternating 12-hours shifts. Since Monday, the ice crew has been working 24 hours each day in preparation for the Heritage Classic.

"We've basically been spraying water 24 hours a day to build our ice," Craig said. "Judging by our thickness, we're hoping to paint [the ice] tonight. Then we're shooting to put our lines and logos around 9 a.m. tomorrow."

The retractable roof would have come in handy when Craig's crew was prepping Yankee Stadium last month; Craig and his crew had to spent time clearing several inches of snow. Inclement weather hasn't been an issue in Vancouver, but because the stadium hosted the BC Home and Garden Show last weekend, Craig wasn't left with a lot of time to prepare the ice for Vancouver's first outdoor regular-season NHL game.

"We moved in right after the home show was at BC Place. We were moving in while they were moving out," Craig said. "The biggest part, to be honest, with something like this is working on the production schedule and the logistics and all the timing issues. We spend a lot of time on that and we've basically been able to follow that. We've been working 24 hours a day, so every hour is accounted for from start to finish. There was a little bit of leeway time with other venues. We don't have that here."

For his mostly Canadian crew, preparing the ice for Canada's first outdoor NHL game in more than three years is something special.

"It's great. Our ice crew, we came from Montreal, Toronto, Regina, Calgary and all over B.C.," Craig said. "To bring a whole crew together like that at the Heritage Classic is pretty special."

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