PITTSBURGH -- The NHL took its first steps Monday toward transforming Heinz Field into a hockey rink fit for the 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.
The 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series Ice Plant, a 53-foot trailer that holds ice-making and ice-monitoring equipment, is in the early stages of creating an NHL-caliber ice surface after arriving on Pittsburgh's North Shore on Sunday.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will play the Philadelphia Flyers at Heinz Field on Feb. 25 (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, NHL.TV).
"Every [outdoor game] is special. Every single one you do is special," said Dan Craig, NHL vice president of facilities operations/hockey operations. "For us, coming and having an intrastate rivalry, it's fantastic."
Heinz Field, the home of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, hosted one previous outdoor game, the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Penguins and Washington Capitals. Rain pushed that game back from its scheduled 1 p.m. ET start to 8 p.m. ET.
The current forecast in Pittsburgh for Feb. 25 is a high of 45 degrees with a low of 37 and possible snow showers, according to weather.com. Craig's previous experience at Heinz Field has helped him plan for the unexpected and get ahead of schedule.
"A little bit of rain [in 2011]. No big deal," Craig said. "The weather does it, but the setup has gone really well so far. We parked yesterday and we're already down to the field with all the piping. Being here before really helped us on the original setup. … We're in good shape."
Penguins COO Travis Williams said having the event at Heinz Field seemed necessary since about 60,000 tickets have been sold. Tickets remain available, Williams said.
"We're obviously very proud to bring this back to the city of Pittsburgh," Williams said. "We're working with the Steelers and the Rooney family to put this event together, along with the NHL. I think everybody is familiar with Heinz Field, the surroundings of it and putting this together. So, we're very excited to be able to do that again.
"We certainly wanted to bring it as many fans as possible, so Heinz Field is what made the most sense. They've hosted it before. They're familiar with it. It was an easy decision for us."
Piping has been placed from the truck to the field, where forklifts are unloading plastic squares that will interlock and form a deck to hold the ice surface. Craig said he plans to put down the surface Wednesday.
"When they bring the ice trucks in, I think that's when everybody gets excited about it," Williams said. "It becomes real on a day like today when you can officially move the ice trucks in and you start to see the deck being put down to put the ice rink down. That's really exciting."
The League is working with the Penguins and Heinz Field, along with local pipefitters and carpenters, to help make the process as seamless as possible.
"You can really tell when you walk onto the site, the pride that's within the city," Craig said. "It's fantastic."
That city pride also will be displayed through events surrounding the Stadium Series game, something that wasn't possible during the lead-up to the 2011 Winter Classic since the Steelers were completing their regular season.
This time, Heinz Field will host an NCAA men's hockey game between Robert Morris University, which is located about 15 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, and Niagara University on Feb. 26. Youth hockey games also will take place at the stadium.
"For us, again, showcasing that Pittsburgh is a hockey town, we wanted to have as many hockey events as we could," Williams said. "Last time … it didn't afford us the ability to allow people to still play on the ice that the actual NHL players got to play on in the middle of Heinz Field. You could imagine, that's a big thrill for a college hockey player or a youth hockey player."
As for the NHL players, Williams said he imagines playing in a large outdoor stadium never will become stale.
"The players absolutely get charged up for something like this," Williams said. "I guess it's kind of like a boyhood dream to play in front of 60,000-plus fans and in a venue like this. I don't think that ever gets old."