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Winter Classic forecast: overcast and chilly

by Dan Rosen

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- From snow to rain to blinding sunshine to uncharacteristically warm days, the NHL has dealt with just about everything Mother Nature can toss its way in previous outdoor games.

The hope based on early weather reports for New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium is that none of those forces will be a concern for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC).

The forecasts the NHL has been receiving for Jan. 1 are calling for overcast skies, a potential snow flurry and a game-time temperature somewhere around 15 degrees Fahrenheit with winds up to 10-15 miles per hour that could drive the temperature down into single digits.

"If that maintains I don't think we'll have an issue," NHL Executive Vice President of Events Don Renzulli said Saturday afternoon.

While Dan Craig, the NHL's Senior Director of Facilities Operations, said mid-20s with overcast skies would be ideal conditions for the ice surface on the day of the game, he can work with temperature in the teens or even slightly below because of the power of his refrigeration truck parked outside the stadium.


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Craig may even get a dress rehearsal Tuesday when the Red Wings and Maple Leafs are scheduled to practice at Michigan Stadium because he said the weather reports for the practice day are "almost identical" to Jan. 1.

"Hey, that's winter," Craig said. "Hopefully the people who came early don't get used to the 47 degrees and sunshine that we had [Saturday] and expect to play a hockey game. You can be as cold as you want, if we have bright sunshine we have a problem."

That's what Craig and his ice crew dealt with Saturday afternoon, when it was around 45 degrees with sun beating down on the ice. The glare would have made defending the north end of the rink difficult, and the ice crew had to keep tarps down on the playing surface in order to protect the recently installed lines, markings and Winter Classic logos.

"The sun will melt down over a quarter of an inch and then next thing you know all you have is water overtop your lines that you worked all night to install," Craig said. "You can be as cold as you want, but if we have sun we have a problem."

Craig was able to have his crew remove the tarps once the sun was off of the surface at approximately 4 p.m. The goal for Saturday night was for the crew to spend roughly six to seven hours on the surface spraying water in order to build a solid base overtop the colored markings.

The temperature is expected to drop by midday Sunday and Craig's crew should be aided by some cloud cover to protect the surface. Renzulli said the reports he has seen suggest there is a 40 percent chance of precipitation on Tuesday and a 30 percent chance on New Year's Day.

"On the 31st we'll get it to see it better for the 1st, but it's not going to be rain," Renzulli said. "I don't think we have to worry about rain and I don't think we have to worry about sun anymore."


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