ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig put the finishing touches on his final planned activity Thursday for building a rink inside Michigan Stadium, the weather presented him with an opportunity.
Craig could have kept his crew later than planned, but part of his job is also to manage the guys in charge of creating the playing surface for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. He knew his crew would have willingly stayed and continued to work, but his management experience helped him decide it was time to call it a day.
"[Today] went well. As a matter of fact, with the wind dying down, I am tempted to paint [the ice] white tonight," Craig said. "Today was a travel day for the guys and a lot of them started at 6 a.m., so I'd much rather have them fresh for tomorrow. I'm not ready to make them all put in a 12-hour day to paint. It takes a while to mix it up and make sure everyone is doing the right thing at the right time."
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Craig had sent his entire 11-man crew home for a two- or three-day break for the holidays. They reconvened Thursday morning in Ann Arbor. The first task on the playing surface was to clean off a few inches of fresh snow that had fallen since the last day everyone was here.
Six guys with large shovels worked in unison to clear all of the snow off the surface, which will be stored and used on the parts of the University of Michigan football field that won't be covered by one of the two rinks for game day Jan. 1.
After all the snow was cleared, the crew edged the ice along the boards and after clearing some more snow, Craig was on the ice with a hose flooding the surface with hot water as dusk turned into night.
"We're at the thickness that I want to be," Craig said. "Now, it is just a matter of getting the white down and getting it sealed up and then getting our lines and logos in and then getting a half inch of ice over top of it."
Craig said the ice was about one-and-a-half inches thick before the late afternoon flooding, which would add one-eighth of an inch. The hot water will bond together with the ice already in place better than cold water would, he explained.
The plan remains intact and on schedule two weeks after the NHL Winter Classic Ice Truck presented by York arrived at the Big House. The plan for Friday could be altered depending on the wind down at ice level.
It was pretty breezy during the day while the crew was shoveling snow, but it was calm by nightfall. It was that calm that had Craig entertaining the idea of painting, because trying to paint the ice with the wind whipping through the bowl at Michigan Stadium would be a problem.
"You have a plan, but Mother Nature dictates the play," Craig said. "You have to be able to change on the fly. That's why our forecasts are a good five days out; so we know what's coming. But at the same time, everyone knows how the weather can change. We have the windows to work right now, and we're not in a squeezed place. We have enough guys here so we're in good shape.
"We had a few little scenarios to work our way through because it is a new truck, but overall the move-in went well. It is the older floor, so we knew what we were doing with the floor. It was just getting the truck set up because of the fluctuations of the temperatures. It was fairly warm and then it was fairly cold, and now it is back up near the freezing mark. We were down in the single digits the other night. It was just a matter of getting the balance in there where we need to do."
There is also a balance for Craig, who has to juggle the work that has to be done and manpower management. There are times when Craig wants to push forward but the weather will not allow it. Then there are times when the weather does cooperate, like it did Thursday night, but he knew what the right play was in terms of his workers.
"You have to get all of the work done and get everyone enough rest," Craig said. "We are very conscious of the crews, because all of the guys doing the work now will be doing it on game day. I have to be very conscious of their rest time, their meal times, the whole thing just to make sure when it comes to game time I have the best crew I can. That's why I handpick the guys. They'll work for as long as I ask them to, but I also have to be reasonable."