SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Dan Craig, the NHL's senior director of facilities operations, was able to take a deep breath Monday.
The NHL's state-of the-art mobile ice making and monitoring unit arrived on schedule at Levi's Stadium after a four-and-a-half day, 3,300-mile trip. Work can begin on time to build a rink for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21.
Instead of taking a more direct route to Santa Clara, the massive truck and 53-foot trailer traveled a southern path from Toronto to avoid the potential of getting stopped in mountain passes by snow storms. That added an extra 500 miles to the trip.
"Then we knew we were going to be here," Craig said, speaking with reporters outside of the home of the San Francisco 49ers. "We didn't know for sure with the storms coming across if the passes would be closed, and we couldn't afford for the truck to be sitting an extra day as our program is all in a very, very tight time schedule here."
After three days of heavy rain, Santa Clara had sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60s Tuesday afternoon and was headed for a low in the mid-40s. Or, as Craig said, perfect weather for an outdoor hockey game.
"I'm looking forward to the sunshine," said Craig, wearing a short-sleeved shirt. "People don't believe that, but I really, really do."
Craig, 58, has been preparing outdoor rinks since he was 14 and has had that responsibility for the NHL's outdoor games. Last season he prepared the ice at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where the Kings and Anaheim Ducks played a Stadium Series game.
Until that game, Craig had never worn a polo shirt on the job for an outdoor game.
"We're looking forward to it again," Craig said, smiling. "Some of the crew that are coming, some of them are landing tonight. They were stuck over in New York last year and did storm after storm after storm while we were in LA in our polo shirts. So they're looking forward to working here as well. It's a unique experience for all of us. Last year was our benchmark, and this year we're going to raise that, make it even better."
Craig said he has learned valuable lessons at every outdoor game and that last season's game at Dodger Stadium was great preparation for this upcoming game at Levi's.
"It's more streamlined," Craig said of the process. "I don't know if you call it easier. We take a look at the weather trends that are happening and we take a look at what's happened for 15 years out in the past. Even today, we're supposed to be sitting at the 60-degree mark, and we're well above that today.
"And those are the things we know from last year. We were 82, 84 degrees last year. We just took into consideration things we did last year. Every one's a challenge. We don't know what challenge that we're going to be thrown here. Mother Nature always wins. She always does. We just try to find a way to maneuver around her."
Craig won't have to worry about snow or frigid weather in the Bay Area. He proved last season that the League's refrigeration system can handle warmer weather.
"The one we did down at L.A. last year at Dodger Stadium, people have told me that that was probably some of the best ice they've ever skated on outdoors," Craig said.
The biggest weather concern is heavy rain that arrives during the game, which could make the ice unplayable.
Work began Monday inside Levi's, off the field where the rink will be built. Crews will start "setting up all the stage decking for us" on Tuesday, Craig said. "And then my ice crew arrives on Wednesday."
Craig said he hopes to begin "spraying water" on Saturday and have the rink ready for skaters on Feb. 17. That water is recycled, a first for Craig, from the Levi's Stadium system.
"We're very conscious of what's happening in California," Craig said of the drought. "And we made sure we took that into consideration when we came in here and had the conversation with Levi's."
Author: Eric Gilmore | NHL.com Correspondent