PITTSBURGH -- Dan Craig picked up a call on his radio. On the other end was one of his guys from the ice truck asking him about pressure gauges?
Craig, the NHL's Facilities Operations Manager, could have just given an answer and continued on with his interview with NHL.com. But, after spending the past three NHL Winter Classics getting to know the man, you all could have probably predicted what he was going to do next.
Craig stopped dead in his tracks and radioed back, "Stay right where you are, I'll be there in two seconds."
He wasn't kidding.
In a matter of seconds the issue was getting his immediate and undivided attention. Soon enough it would be resolved.
Craig, as he is every year at this time, is a man on a mission. His goal is to have the rink at Heinz Field ready to go by noon on Dec. 30, more than enough time to test out the ice before the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day.
Knock on wood, Craig is ahead of schedule, which is why he was in such a jovial mood when he did eventually spend some time with NHL.com around 3 o'clock Saturday afternoon:
NHL.com: How would you assess how everything has gone so far since the night of the 23rd?
Craig: "How would awesome be? That's exactly where we're at. Mother Nature has cooperated with us. The install of the decking was right on schedule. The install of the (ice) pans was two hours ahead of schedule. The boards right now are three-quarters of the way in. They need to be completed by 7 o'clock tonight, which will happen. And, we were supposed to fire up the truck at 9 tonight and be spraying water sometime between 9 and midnight. We could be spraying water as early as 5 o'clock tonight."
NHL.com: So far it seems that everyday that we've been here would be a good day for hockey. Do you agree?
Craig: "Oh totally. I know there were a lot of people in Pittsburgh that were up because there are a lot of parents with some really young, bright-eyed children, and you couldn't have a postcard of Christmas that looked any better than what we had this morning at 6 o'clock around this stadium. It was fabulous. The snow was light and fluffy. The floor was done and we were ready to go. It was like, 'OK, this is a blessing.' "
NHL.com: You had to take some snow off this floor. Did that set you back even in the slightest?
Craig: "Not at all. Nope. As you see now here it is at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and there is nothing on the floor."
NHL.com: There is a trick of the trade here that you need to explain. You fill in the cracks between the ice pans with snow and freeze it. Why do you do that?
Craig: "Where are hoses and pipes join from panel to panel we have a gap so I'm not going to flood that. It'll take me three days to fill that hole with water. So, we take slush and we freeze it. The coolant is going across the panel, through those hoses to the next panel and it just freezes solid."
NHL.com: So, if you turn the hoses on, best case scenario at 5 today but let's just say 7 or 8, how long does it take to build the amount of ice you need to build?
Craig: "If I can get a hose on here for 8 I'm still four hours ahead of where I'm supposed to be. It'll take two days. You need an inch and a half and then we're going to paint, put down our lines and logos and then build another half an inch on top of that. It takes 24 hours to build an inch of ice and that's steady, non-stop."
NHL.com: You've had good weather, good fortune and the crew working hard and non-stop. Now is when your patience has to really become a virtue. Is it easier to stay patient when you know you're ahead of schedule?
Craig: "It's not that. It's not that at all. The patient part is from the guys that we have. That's the patient part. When I know I can tell one of my guys that I'm going to be in the lobby at 4:30 because I want to be at the stadium at 5, and I wake up at 3:25 and turn on the webcam I know I have to stay in my room and be a good boy and not go down to the lobby because I have someone else coming with me at 4:30. The guys down here are doing the job that they were brought here to do. They were brought here so I can concentrate on the smaller items and make sure everything is being done the way it's supposed to be done."
NHL.com: You can't freeze the ice without pumping glycol into the system. That acts as a cooling agent for the rink. How much glycol gets pumped through the system?
Craig: "This one, we're estimating and I think we're going to be pretty close, right around 3,150 gallons. That's what estimated, and the system will be full so now it just flows through the end of the game."
NHL.com: Lots of planning goes into all of this so now that you see the pans down, the boards going up, the glycol pumped -- do you allow yourself to take a step back and let yourself have a surreal moment almost?
Craig: "No. When that's going to be is when everybody leaves tonight, the boards are up and everything is quiet and all we've got is hoses going. That's when it's surreal. It is very surreal. Right now we have very nice fluffy snow. Now imagine if we had just minimal lighting in here and all we're doing is just spraying water nicely. You can do that…well, I know I can and a couple of my guys can do that for hours, just hours and hours."
NHL.com: When does the plexiglass get put into place?
Craig: "It won't go up until the 29th. One of the biggest concerns that we have, and we might put up some sheets here and there to get us started, but we were down in this stadium a couple of weeks ago and it is a pretty swirly stadium. If Mother Nature decides that an eight-foot piece of plexiglass should become a sail it's going to become a sail and there's nothing you can do about it. So, we will put posts up and then when the rest of the glass is ready to go we'll put in two or three sheets, leave one out, put in two or three sheets and leave one out just so the wind has a place to get to."
NHL.com: I can see the black piping that connects the floor to the truck comes up on to the stage here and runs on the floor right on the outside of the bottom of the boards. Explain how that is going to be hidden?
Craig: "There is another deck that will go up. If you take a look at the gate that step up is probably 10 inches because we have our six-inch veins with insulation on them so we're probably running at nine and a half inches and we've got to put a deck over it. The deck can not put pressure on these pipes because that's just bad stuff. So, that's why the deck is higher on top of that."
NHL.com: It seems like everything is going along as planned. Feeling good?
Craig: "We're basically ready to go. We're pressure testing now and then we're going to put the ammonia in the truck and we'll be ready to pump down. It will not take long for these pans to start freezing up because out here it's right at that 30 degree mark so there is no heat that we need to take out of these pans. Once we fire the truck up we'll be spraying in no time."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl.