TORONTO -- NHL senior manager of facilities operations Mike Craig has been in the spotlight in the days leading up to when the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs compete in the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto on Jan. 1 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).
Craig, whose father, Dan, is senior director of facilities operations for the League, is an integral part of the process in erecting NHL-caliber rinks in large outdoor venues around North America. He led a group of about 25 seventh- and eighth-grade students with the NHL/NHLPA Future Goals-Hockey Scholar program on a tour of the rink's construction process on Wednesday.
Students from St. Angela Catholic School and Transfiguration of Our Lord School were shown Exhibition Stadium's press box and bleachers, locker rooms that will be used by the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, and given an up-close look at the refrigeration equipment and the ice itself from where the penalty box will be located.
"No, I didn't think I'd [have this kind of attention], but it's fun," Craig said. "You get to do something like we just did with the school group and be able to kind of explain what we're doing and see the excitement in their eyes. It kind of brings back that excitement for myself as well."
When the tour was ending at ice level, Craig and Alessandra Tino, a representative with the NHL/NHLPA Future Goals program, pulled out a block of Centennial Classic tickets and gave a pair to each student on the tour.
"It was great; I've been looking forward to giving them out all day," Craig said. "We heard there were going to be some tickets available for them and to see the excitement on their faces when they were touring the facility and when we were able to come down rinkside today, kind of knowing in the back of my mind that there was going to be a nice surprise for them and to be able to watch and see that reaction was a lot of fun."
Paul Fiaschetti, a teacher at Transfiguration of Our Lord School, knew about the surprise ahead of time and said it was difficult to not let it slip.
"One of the students actually said, 'Is there any chance we are going to get to be able to buy tickets while we're down there?' I was like, 'I don't know, I don't think they're on sale yet,' anything to try to keep it a surprise," Fiaschetti said. "Once they announced it, all the kids were jacked up about it and I think they're going to be really pumped to tell their families.
"It was a fantastic experience, the kids were really looking forward to it and [were] very excited, as was I. Just to be brought around behind the scenes and seeing all the work that gets put into it, it was crazy to see the amount of work and the amount of people that are involved in this process. The whole experience was phenomenal."
The NHL/NHLPA Future Goals-Hockey Scholar program is a joint initiative between the League and the NHLPA to engage students in fundamental science, technology, and engineering and math concepts through online courses that use hockey to provide real-life applications. In Canada alone, the program is run coast-to-coast and has more than 23,000 students participating.
Many of the students on the trip are looking to get into the STEM program; a curriculum based on educating students in four specific disciplines -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- while in high school. A school unit was taught about the ice construction process and what is involved in the procedure the past several weeks prior to the tour.
The trip Wednesday was the culmination of that lesson, taking it from the classroom to a real-world setting, allowing students to see the concepts they learned being put to use.
"For them to see this brought to life basically as a final unit was an outstanding experience," Fiaschetti said. "We will bring this back in the classroom and discuss what we learned here and relate it back to what we learned in the classroom earlier."