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Old buildings won't have ice issues

by Larry Wigge

Dan Craig, shown here taking care of the ice at the Winter Classic, is in charge of making sure the ice in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena and Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena is top notch for the Stanley Cup Final.
Speed and skill will be paramount in this delicious series of talent. Now all that is needed is great conditions to show off the talents of a Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

Well, if there hadn't been a New Jersey-Dallas Stanley Cup Final in 2000 with enough headaches to ruin the day of the National Hockey League's ice guru, Dan Craig, this year's Final at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena and Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena might have been cause for some of the worst logistical problems ever. But not any more.

"That 2000 series was the worst," Craig said. "If I got five hours of sleep a day in that series, I was doing pretty well. It seemed like every time we'd fix one problem in the spring, in the heat and humidity, another problem would pop up."

Thanks to new technologies, Craig and his staff have rated the ice surfaces in each building, and also have began keeping track of how much time each puck was kept in play to make certain a bouncing puck doesn't prevent a breathtaking play from happening.

Some of the older buildings have helped the ice staffs learn what to do in the newer arenas around the League before they first hosted an NHL game.

"You could say The Joe and Reunion Arena (Dallas' former home) have been our templates to improve the ice conditions around North America – and the world, when you take into consideration Olympic games, as well," Craig said. "It's like the old dogs did show us some new tricks on how to make the ice better and in turn help enhance the skills of our great players on the ice."

Mellon Arena, which was built in 1962, is the NHL's oldest building today. Joe Louis Arena was first used by the Red Wings in the 1979-80 season after Detroit opened the season at the Olympia.

The biggest problems in the old buildings?

"Pressurization,” Craig said. “Cold and dry are the worst problems we've had at the Joe. Now I can walk into this arena, and with all of the important games we've had here over the last decade or so, the ice temperature is just fine ... as long as we can keep the doors to the building shut as much as possible.

"And Mellon, we've added three separate air conditioning units outside earlier in this year's playoffs to correct any difficulties we have had there over the years. Now, conditions are near-perfect."

No excuses, then, right?

"There's no reason from the standpoint of ice that Sidney Crosby and the Penguins and Pavel Datsyuk and the Red Wings shouldn't be able to put on a pretty magical display for all of the hockey fans around the world," said Craig.

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