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Plenty of hard work will make Fenway magical for fans

by Dan Rosen /
BOSTON -- Dan Craig and Don Renzulli, the two men tasked with making the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic as magical the previous two, are comfortable with the plan and confident they can enact every detail on cue.

Hey, they've transformed a near century-old baseball stadium into a modern-day hockey rink before. Who's to say "the Iceman" and "Mr. Events" can't do it again on New Year's Day 2010?

But, wait …

"If you go in with that kind of confidence, you're going to screw something up," NHL Senior Vice President of Events Renzulli told late Thursday afternoon from his makeshift office in a storefront along Yawkey Way. "I don't think you should ever be that confident."

For Craig, the League's facilities operations manager, the job is pretty much the same as last season: Create an NHL ice rink by using his giant refrigeration truck and with the help of his crew of ice-making all-stars from around the continent.

Whatever Mother Nature throws at him, Craig plans to roll with it and make it work. That's his job and there is no one better.

"This system is a monster," Craig said while standing in front of the refrigeration truck parked outside of Fenway Park on Van Ness Street. "We haven't even pushed the limits on this thing yet. A day like (Thursday), this thing wouldn't even hiccup. It's a great system they put together and this is our second season with it. We don't see any problems. I have a lot of confidence in the crews we have here."

For Renzulli, who leads the group tasked with making a fan-friendly NHL event at a baseball stadium, the bare bones of his challenge are similar to last year's at Wrigley Field.

He's working with an old stadium not meant to handle a hockey game, but he has to utilize every square inch to make it look and feel like a hockey rink, only outdoors and with the famed Green Monster as its picturesque backdrop.

"That shot from behind home plate looking out to left field with the Monster as your background shot, we've kind of keyed on that with everything that we've done," he said. "That's the shot you're going to get, just like we had last year with the rooftops."

But Fenway Park and the area surrounding it pose their own unique challenges. For instance, our interview for this story took place in the odd area where the NHL offices are going to be located. Last year, they set up trailers in a parking lot adjacent to the ballyard. This year, they're in the Yawkey Way Store and using the warehouse behind it for extra space. It's all owned by Twins Enterprises, which is renting the space to the NHL.

The events staff has more room to operate this year because they're not in trailers, but Renzulli reminds that they are lucky the space was available. What if, he said, Twins Enterprises operated the store year-round and the space wasn't available?

"We don't have those parking lots here to where we could just roll up and do it with trailers," he said. "We're here in this space because there was nowhere else. We happened to be lucky that this was all empty because it is offseason. If this was regular storefronts, I don't know where we would be. We couldn't just park trailers on the streets and ask them to close down the street for a month."

Just like last year, Renzulli has to make sure there is running water inside the ballpark so vendors can serve soda and beer and the bathrooms can be operational. That's never a problem during the summer, but pipes can freeze in the winter and Fenway, like Wrigley, is not a winterized ballpark like some of the more modern facilities.

"Think of this as a summer house," Renzulli said. "If you had it on the lake or on the beach you would shut it down, drain your pipes and lock it up until next year. There is no heat in it. That's exactly what you have here."

As a result, there will be some vendor stations that just simply won't have the capability for running water, so the beer and soda will be served out of bottles, while other areas will have working taps.

"If the water freezes, you're dead," Renzulli said. "So there are certain areas that will be live like it is in the summer and there are certain areas where you won't have water so they will pour. The toughest part is really getting extra product to those stands during the game."

"Think of this as a summer house. If you had it on the lake or on the beach you would shut it down, drain your pipes and lock it up until next year. There is no heat in it. That's exactly what you have here." -- NHL Senior Vice President of Events Don Renzulli

Renzulli and Craig each said they are better off because of past experience. What they learned in Buffalo two years ago they corrected for Chicago last season. What they learned in Wrigley, they are trying to correct for Fenway.

Renzulli, who came to the NHL just over two years ago with an NFL background, never had worked in a baseball stadium before last season's Winter Classic. He learned the hard way that the concourses in these old stadiums are not built for the kind of between-periods foot traffic that an NHL game generates.

"They have breaks every half inning in baseball so not everybody is getting up at one time," Renzulli said.

The concourses in Wrigley last year were like New York Penn Station at rush hour -- just slammed, with everybody going nowhere.

This year, the League will correct that by keeping Yawkey Way open to only foot traffic as an extension of the stadium on event day like the Red Sox do on typical gamedays. Fans will be able to go in and out of Gates A and D, which lead onto Yawkey Way, as many times as they want. In fact, they are encouraged to do so.

Food and merchandise vendors will be selling from the moment the gates open at 11 a.m.

"You can walk out of your seats, down the steps, go outside to buy a hat and a sweatshirt, and then go back in because you're technically in the stadium," Renzulli said. "If you came in for example on Lansdowne Street, if you walk out you are out. This on Yawkey, you are still in it.

"What they do is at 8 o'clock in the morning police will come down and clear everybody out of here. They shut the gates, set up the turnstiles and they'll open it up for our game at 11 o'clock. You'll get your ticket scanned and you can go anywhere -- buy a hot dog, get a hat, hang out, go in and come back out and hang out again until you want to go in."

As for the build-out, Craig and Renzulli see friendly weather in their near future, which definitely makes things a lot easier. They each, however, expect hiccups along the way. Renzulli even dealt with one Thursday.

"Yeah, we had some issues with the police and street closures where the truck is," he said. "It's a permitting process that's all in the works and all on paper, but it's just city politics."

For that and a thousand other reasons, neither man is battling a case of overconfidence.

"It's the issues that you don't know that come up to bite you," Renzulli said. "You're just hoping that everybody has done their job along the way."

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