Skip to main content

Winter Classic Truck arrives in Pittsburgh

by Dan Rosen /
PITTSBURGH -- Jim Fraser turned the ignition key to rev up the NHL's refrigeration truck and begin his route from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh at around 9 o'clock Thursday night. A truck driver going on three decades now, Fraser figured this road trip would be a breeze.

The weather in D.C. was clear. The truck was gassed up. There would be no traffic. Heinz Field would be in his sights by 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning, enough time for him to get about six hours of sleep before he had to move the truck into its final parking space not far from the loading dock.

It all looked good on paper, felt good in his mind. He had the Penguins-Capitals game on the radio, but then it happened.

"I got about an hour and a half out of the city and ran into a snow storm," Fraser told Friday afternoon, roughly six hours after he safely and somewhat miraculously arrived at Heinz Field. "They had the interstate closed in Maryland so I got off into a secondary two-lane highway with let's say 7 to 10 percent grade hills that weren't salted, weren't plowed yet. I believe I was the first lucky soul to go there, and when you're dealing with that you don't want to be that guy, do you? Never.

"It was an experience, believe me."

What should have been about a five hour ride ended up taking Fraser eight because he was caught in his own personal episode of Ice Road Truckers into the mountains near Cumberland, Md. He didn't pull up to Heinz Field until exactly 5:22 a.m. Friday morning.

"Running through Canada and the Rocky Mountains you expect things like that, but not Maryland," Fraser said, "especially when it's 29 or 30 degrees in Washington and beautiful when you leave and then you get into the Cumberland Mountains and it becomes just a nightmare.

"I have chains in the truck for the wheels, but you don't expect to do that down here. That's for the real big mountains."

NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig was waiting for Fraser at Heinz Field. He'd been up worrying since about 3:15 a.m.

"I'm wide awake waiting to know where this thing is," Craig told "He was supposed to be sleeping here by 2 o'clock this morning. You think I can go back to sleep now? No."

Fraser said he got about three-quarters of the way up one of the steepest hills he came across when the truck started to slide.

"This was a 7 percent grade hill as well, and they have to mark it for you," he said. "It's like, really, do you need to tell me this? It got a little scary, but you do that over onto the shoulder and onto the sand thing. I made it up to the top and that's another one of those sighs of relief."

He took plenty of those.

"Because that truck is so heavy -- it's a 96,000 pound truck -- you don't want to take any chances with that, especially as a big hockey fan," Fraser said. "You never want to be that guy."

He was getting sleepy about halfway through his ride, but he pushed through because all he could think about was getting the truck to Pittsburgh safe and sound. Fraser never worried about the time it was taking him.

"In the back of my head I also knew that 9 o'clock is the time when we were officially going to park the truck (outside Heinz Field) so it gave me that window," he said. "I had that little extra window if we needed it. You go down in first gear and you just take it really easy. It might take twice as long, three times as long, but it's well worth it in the end.

"When I came through the tunnel just on the other side of the bridge, that's when the sigh of relief started, when I could settle back into the seat again. I was like, 'OK, I'm here now, this is good.' "

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl.
View More