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Winter Classic rink crew perseveres through elements

by Shawn Roarke

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The weather didn't do the ice-making crew at Gillette Stadium any favors Tuesday morning.

The area was blanketed by about an inch of snow, followed by rain that lasted well into the early afternoon.

Those are not ideal conditions, especially at this critical point in the rink-building process, for Dan Craig, the NHL's senior director of facility operations and hockey operations. Craig is the point person for making the ice ready for the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic here on Jan. 1 between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).

"Like I was telling one of the guys today, I thought we were going to get a bit of snow and scrape it off," Craig said Tuesday during a break. "All our lines and logos were done last night and I though we just need to go another half-inch of ice and we're ready to skate [Tuesday night] and do the other stuff [Wednesday], and here we are putting in a 16-hour day just to catch up."

With the rink hosting a family skate for the Boston Bruins organization and, potentially, a skate for members of the media, the urgency is starting to ramp up after a week of preparations that took place under the radar a bit.

Craig has full faith in his eight-man crew, even if he has had to push them a bit harder than he would like. Sleep for some was cut short in the early morning hours Tuesday as the threat of the changeover from snow to rain became apparent.

"We didn't have time to get all the snow off in time and it made it a little bit of a grind for our guys," Craig said.

Most of the crew spent the early-morning hours wielding chippers and scrapers to get the wet snow and the frozen bumps off the ice surface. There is a good chance the crew will work through the overnight Tuesday, Craig said.

"The ice won't be all the way back until late [Tuesday]," Craig said. "It's going to be a tough haul. The guys are aware of it. That is why they are here."

This is not the first time Craig has dealt with weather setbacks. He has built 15 rinks for NHL outdoor events and he has run into almost every conceivable hardship imaginable.

"None of these have been routine," he said. "Every single one has been different."

But Craig has learned through all his experiences that the final product, the ice surface that will host the Bruins and Canadiens on Jan. 1, is the only thing that truly matters.

"We'll be ready [Wednesday]; I don't even worry about [Wednesday]," Craig said. "It's just a blip on the radar for us. Everything has to go toward [Jan. 1] for us; everything."

Craig promises a good ice surface for the activities planned for Wednesday. He believes it will be better Thursday when the surface hosts practices by both teams, the Outdoor Women's Classic presented by Scotiabank exhibition, the NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game presented by Molson and a skate by the game officials.

And regardless of what comes his way during the next 72 hours, it will be right where it needs to be to host a NHL regular-season game between two of the sport's fiercest rivals.

Craig said he hasn't even looked at the weather for the next three days, which calls for clouds and temperatures in the mid-40s for Wednesday and Thursday. The forecast Friday is for a fair bit of sun and a high of 42 degrees.

"I haven't even gotten that far," he said, chuckling, when asked what punches the weather might have left for him and his crew. "I still think there is some rain in the forecast. We'll see how much it is and where it takes us, and we will go from there."

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