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Wrigley almost set for Winter Classic

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

CHICAGO -- The mix of baseball and hockey in the Winter Classic makes for odd distances at Wrigley Field: It's 112 feet from home plate to the center-ice faceoff dot, then another 288 feet to the center-field wall.

The penalty box is just to the second base side of the pitcher's mound, and the goals are on the first and third base lines.

Now it's nearly time to see a puck fly where a baseball usually whizzes by.

Workers were busy Tuesday putting the finishing touches on the transformation of the old ballpark into a hockey arena, two days before the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks meet in the NHL's second regular-season outdoor game in the U.S.

A curtain painted with ivy and brick - two of Wrigley Field's trademarks - was being fastened to scaffolding in front of the bleachers. The real ivy, of course, has died for the winter.

The ice was down on the rink as workers glided over the surface to get a feel and a look-see. One small problem was that the sun caused the painted blue lines to bleed a little.

On Wednesday, the Blackhawks and Red Wings will practice on the rink, the biggest test yet of a project that has lasted two weeks. It has taken 3,000 gallons of coolant to freeze it, while 20,000 gallons of water were needed to create the two-inch deep ice surface.

The game-day forecast is for temperatures in the low 30s with an overcast day.

"We are going to have one fast, tough game," Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operations manager, said Tuesday after the ice was tested. "It's going to be a fast and solid surface. The puck will slide really well. It's almost effortless if you get a good sheet of ice."

For Chicago native Chris Chelios, the 46-year-old defenseman who played nine years with his hometown Blackhawks and is in his 10th with the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings, it's the early faceoff that's a big deal.

"The biggest difference is the 12 o'clock (CST) start," Chelios said. "The pregame meal is 9 a.m., so steak and spaghetti isn't the best thing."

But Chelios knows the fans will enjoy the game and his family and friends could get to watch him play in a unique setting, even though his ice time has been limited this season by injury.

"You want to have fun and enjoy the moment because it's a very special," Chelios said.

Outdoor games are nothing new for Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin. He was in goal for Edmonton when the Oilers hosted Montreal in the 2003 Heritage Classic outdoors and started for Pittsburgh in last year's Winter Classic at Orchard Park, N.Y., against the Sabres.

With Chris Osgood nursing a groin injury, Conklin could be in his third outdoor game.

"It would be neat, it's neat to be in involved in any of them. I think it's a bit of a coincidence, kind of odd I've been involved in two," Conklin said.

AP Sports Editor Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.



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