ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The sun began its ascent in the blue Michigan sky Saturday morning, but Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operations manager, and his team were ready.
Half of Craig's crew, led by his son Mike, put all of the lines and logos on the ice Friday night into Saturday morning at Michigan Stadium for the Bridgestone 2014 NHL Winter Classic. The other half relieved them and went to work just after 4 a.m. at making more ice on top.
The objective was simple: Build as much ice on top as possible before the sun's rays reached the rink, and then cover the surface with tarps to preserve it.
"Everything was painted and sealed and ready to go," Craig said. "We split the crew and made sure everyone got food and got warm before their overnight shift. They were ready to put the markings in around 8 (p.m.) and I think the first lines started going down at about 8:30. I texted Mike at 1:20 (a.m.) just wanting to know the status and he said they were in good shape. The last logo went in at about 2:30 a.m.
"We're in good shape there. We just have to make sure we have enough (tarps) for the auxiliary rink as well as the big one. The sun is going to come down on the penalty box side first and then in the afternoon it will the other side. We'll make sure that side gets tarps first along the boards. We reversed the flow on the pipes on the floor last night to make sure that side is the colder side when the sun came out this morning."
On a calm night, the process of turning a blank sheet of ice into one that looks like a hockey rink would not have taken as long. Just as the sun provided some adversity during the day, the wind that whipped through the bowl of the Big House last night made the precise tasks of getting the lines and logos in just the right place a little more difficult.
"They fought the wind. We came in at about 4 (a.m.), but at 4:15 or 4:30 the wind died and then at about 6 it picked up again," Craig said. "The email I got was they would have been done sooner if it wasn't for the wind they had to fight to get the logos to sit down. That's the biggest difference (from indoors). Everything else is pretty much the same, especially on a warmer night like last night.
"If it was colder, there would have been different strategies. When you make a sheet of ice like this, you have to make sure you build from the bottom up and not let Mother Nature freeze you from the top down. That's the big part."
One of Craig's crew members tracked how much walking he did Friday on the ice between cleaning the ice, putting several coats of white paint down, building more ice and then the lines and logos. His total for the day was 10 miles.
The tarps are likely to be on the rink for much of Saturday, with a forecast of a sun-splashed day in Ann Arbor and no clouds on the horizon at day break. Once the sun is gone, there will be more building to do.
"Keep on building, just keep on walking. Do another 10 miles," Craig said.
From this point until puck drop on Jan. 1, Craig will be putting the finishing touches on the rink. Much of what has transpired to this point has become routine for the veterans on Craig's crew. The last stage often requires some improvisation.
"It's building. It is manicuring," Craig said. "The thicker the sheet of ice becomes, the truck reacts differently and the floor reacts differently. This is where I start becoming very conscious of the wind, temperature changes because it depends on where we play the game. We want to make sure we're ready early enough so we're where we want to be on game day. If I miss the mark by a half of a degree, it doesn't sound like much, but to me that is a lot. If I miss it, we end up with a soft sheet of ice or a sheet of ice that is cracking. That's why it will be important for me to be down there monitoring it because each facility is different."