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Winter Classic rink-building crew gets Christmas break

by Corey Masisak

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Because of the amount of extra time afforded to NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig and his cast of rink builders with the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic taking place at Michigan Stadium, he was able to give his entire crew holiday leave.

Craig gave his entire 11-man crew either two or three days off to go home and spend time with their families.

"It lets them recharge the batteries," Craig said. "The funny part about our crew is, yes they all want to be home with family, but at the same time, because we did [the 2011 NHL Winter Classic in] Pittsburgh, where nobody went home for Christmas, and [the 2012 NHL Winter Classic] in Philadelphia, we had an issue and I had to keep four guys behind, they know it is what it is."

Even when they went home to their families, the guys on Craig's crew were thinking about the ice at the Big House. Craig, who lives near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, was able to monitor the ice conditions on his phone, and during the day and part of the evening when the stadium lights were on, he had the ability to watch what was happening inside the stadium on his computer.

When the stadium lights went off and he couldn't see what was happening is when he really began to worry. The system is set up so if anything unusual happens with the temperature of the ice surface, an alarm goes off on his phone. That fail-safe didn't stop him from checking every couple of hours anyway.

"Yeah, it is still stressful," Eric King, who is building a rink with Craig for his fifth outdoor game, said. "You're always thinking about it, especially this year, because we were a couple days behind and wanted to catch up on flooding. Luckily, the rain helped us out. It probably gave us an inch of rain while we were gone, so that was good.

"[The break] was good. I ended up having to drive instead of flying, but it was good. I got to go home and see the family for Christmas."

Craig's travel plans were simple and went smoothly, allowing him to leave his house early Thursday morning and be inside Michigan Stadium by 11 a.m. Other members of his crew did not have it as easy. King, for example, was supposed to fly home, but he ended up driving to his place outside Toronto.

"We've had a couple of times where it is more of headache trying to get out and get back then if I had just left them here," Craig said. "One guy left here at 7 a.m. and got home at 2:30 a.m. I was more fortunate."

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