Although the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic is still 11 days away, the preparations to build the rink at Heinz Field have already begun.
Dan Craig, the National Hockey League’s Facilities Operations Manager, arrived in Pittsburgh Monday night to begin preparations to turn the football field into a bonafide outdoor hockey rink.
Craig got a feel for how the field handles the elements when he watched Steelers host the Jets on Sunday afternoon on television, but he’s ready to see the gridiron up-close and personal.
“There were places on the ground that I was watching within the field and I was watching the way the snow was swirling, because they were showing some pretty good shots of it,” Craig said in a conference call on Monday.
“So you take record of it and kind of say, ‘Okay, that's what's happening at this end zone. This is what happens at that end zone.’ But until you stand there and really are able to work with it, you get a true appreciation when your feet are on the ground there.”
The Steelers have another home game versus Carolina Thursday at 7 p.m. Once that game is over, Craig and his 11-person crew will kick into overdrive. They plan on taking to the field at midnight, putting down decking and roadways overnight.
After they put their refrigeration trailer and hook up the accompanying generators on Friday, they’ll bring their containers for the ice floor to the stadium floor and unload. That process is projected to take about 10-12 hours and the main hookup will begin immediately after.
If all goes smoothly, they hope to start making ice on Christmas Day.
“We’re hoping that all things considered, Mother Nature will be good to us and we will be making ice by 9 p.m. on Christmas night,” Craig said. “And we'll be building ice from that point on.”
That’s when the football-field-turned-hockey-rink will start to look like—well, a hockey rink. The hockey lines, markings and logo installations will be done on Dec. 28.
Once those final touches are completed, Heinz Field will be ready for a skate on the afternoon of Dec. 30 and primed for a full day of activity on Dec. 30.
Craig, who has 44 years in the business of ice-making, has worked on all three previous Winter Classics, including the Penguins’ first outdoor tilt at Ralph Wilson Stadium on New Year’s Day 2008.
He tagged that game as his most problematic Winter Classic yet, but is confident the technology has advanced in the three years since to battle any weather problems.
“The very first one that we did, we had to really fight the crown in the field on that one,” Craig said. “Which we're also doing on this one, but we're now elevating it on to a stage.”
They’ve been able to include an in-line heating system in case the weather gets too cold, and also have an instrumentation called Eye on the Ice that sends Craig signals to his phone that enables him to log and trend what’s happening on any given day.
“It’s one of those things that we've really tightened our technology up into what will help us enhance the game,” Craig said.
Despite his experience, the NHL’s resident ice guru won’t be satisfied until the game occurs without any glitches, as this Winter Classic features rivals Pittsburgh and Washington and marquee players Sidney Crosby
and Alex Ovechkin.
“There probably is more hype,” Craig said. “But I don't think that adds any different pressure than what we've experienced in the past ... I'm in Pittsburgh (Monday). I can already feel the jitters coming. So it’s the same as every other year. It’s the same as any other major event that we've done.”