CHICAGO -- Dan Craig didn't want to say the words for fear of jinxing himself, but he nodded his head, signifying that yes, the ice crew is slightly ahead of schedule in the build-up for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
"You could have a game tomorrow night, yes," Craig, the NHL's facilities operations manager, told NHL.com Sunday afternoon at 1:30.
Craig's goal from the moment the announcement was made over the summer that the Winter Classic would be at Wrigley Field was to have the ice ready for an NHL game by noon on Dec. 30. If everything goes right, it appears he will reach his goal with time to spare.
"Everything is good and that's the reason you put this crew together, so everybody can relax and enjoy such a special event," Craig said. "Everybody runs off one another here. There are tricks out of one person's bag that we use and another out of someone else's bag that we use. That's how we carry on."
Craig's first order of business Sunday upon arrival at Wrigley Field was to play with the floor temperatures. He said he needed to make sure the top of the floor was warm enough to put a Zamboni on it in order to shave the ice down slightly.
The Zamboni went on just before 10:30 a.m. CT and shaved "less than a 32nd of an inch, that's all," Craig said. "With it raining (Saturday) night you do have some dips and hollows within the surface so we could shave it off and that way when we paint white you have a solid white look."
He called it "de-stressing the ice," and since the cracks will be covered by white paint they will not be seen.
"(The cracks) allow a little bit more room and then what we do is put the water back down on it because the surface will be warm and it will help seep down into cuts, fuse it together and make it really strong," Craig said. "That's exactly what we want."
The crew "de-stressed" the ice twice Sunday and hosed down an extra thin layer of water after each Zamboni run.
The goal by the end of Sunday was to paint the ice white and put in the templates for all the markings, including lines, logos, trapezoids and faceoff circles and dots. Craig said his crew should be painting the markings starting at 8 a.m. Monday.
"We'll be done by 2," Craig said. "We'll then seal it in and build a half an inch of ice over top. The very, very crucial part for us is that half-inch, to make sure that is solid and has good density because that's what the guys will be skating on."
Building that extra half-inch of ice takes plenty of patience because the crew uses an ultra-fine layer of mist.
"It's done very slowly," Craig said. "That's where the patience really comes in and that's why you have the crew that we have. These guys all know that nobody rushes us. I don't care what happens, nobody rushes us. If we have to work round the clock that's what we do."