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Rink-building crew works long night into morning

by Corey Masisak

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It was quiet enough inside Michigan Stadium at about 10 p.m. Friday to hear water being sprayed near the other side of the ice surface.

There were seven people in the bowl of the stadium at the time and six of them were putting down the lines, faceoff circles and goal creases that turn a sheet of ice with boards into a hockey rink for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

A sunny day meant a long night and early morning for members of Dan Craig's rink-building crew.

"This is normal," said Craig, the NHL Facilities Operations Manager. "We were supposed to start spraying white [paint] at 10 [a.m.] and be ready to do lines at 2 [p.m.]. Instead we started at 4 and we were ready to [start] doing lines at 8. It is what it is. Mother Nature dictates what you do. Don't argue, just run with it."

The day began with Craig's crew cleaning off the ice with shovels then fine-tuning it with some hot water to burn off the remaining frost. Just as they were about to prepare to spray white paint on the surface, the sun came out of the clouds.


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Those clouds didn't provide as much protection as was predicted, so Craig had to audible. The combination of the later-than-planned start and a weather forecast for Saturday of even warmer temperatures and plenty of sunshine helped Craig decide to work ahead instead of risking falling further behind.

Several coats of white paint were applied to the ice as dusk turned to night, then Craig split his staff in half, sending some back to the hotel for rest and an early wake-up call while others stayed behind and prepared to do some well-known stenciling.

Those who stayed would put all of the lines and markings of an NHL rink down first, and eventually the logos for the Winter Classic. Their shift was expected to last into the early morning, with the rest of crew expected back on site at 4 a.m. Saturday.

"You always plan for doing two shifts, so you always have two shifts with a minimum of four guys," Craig said. "This one is a big education because when we go to New York and L.A. [for the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series], that's what we're going to have. I never do a shift with less than four guys on it because at least you can have two teams of two for doing things with the hoses and doing lines or whatever needs to get done. These guys are used to splitting and doing whatever we need to do to get the job done."

Craig went back to the hotel with part of the group, leaving his son, Mike, in charge. The younger Craig will oversee the rink build in New York as part of the Stadium Series and in Vancouver for the 2014 Heritage Classic, and his father will be in charge in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Part of Craig's process this season included adding members to the team in part because he was going to need to split it in half eventually. Friday night also wasn't the first time he had a chance to let his son assert more authority.

"It is his show, but I'll be there eventually just so everyone knows we're in good shape," Dan Craig said. "If anything goes south, he's in constant communication with me. We started a little in Philadelphia [at the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic], where I pulled back and let him handle the crew because we knew it was coming. You know it is a transition period and you deal with it and just say, 'I'm here if you need me.'

"[The crew] has grown and it has changed. Our first crews in Chicago and Boston were what I would classify as a veteran crew. I've had to start bringing in some 30-somethings and 20-somethings to complement these 50-year-old guys. A couple of the older guys have said they can't do all three [games]. A couple are just going to do one or are going to do two. We've got a couple good young kids coming in from all over the country."

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