Weather or not, the Winter Classic rink will be ready
Turning Heinz Field into a hockey rink will hardly rate as the toughest task in 40 years of ice-making for Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operations manager.
"We've built ice over a swimming pool in Japan. That's when I realized we could take our game anywhere," Craig said. "My crew is going to enjoy doing this one because (Heinz Field) is a newer facility, and believe me that will help."
The complicated process of constructing a 2 1⁄2-inch outdoor rink on a football field must be completed by Monday for the ice to set properly for use beginning Friday with an alumni game.
Craig's crew got started only hours after Thursday night's game between the Steelers and Carolina Panthers. Forty workers cleared debris from the natural surface, then built a deck that was topped by three-quarters-inch plywood to eliminate the football field's crown.
By noon Saturday the surface upon which the ice is laid -- about 200 aluminum panels with an elaborate system of connected pipes and hoses -- was to be in place.
Craig, who has been making ice for the NHL for 13 years, said he wants as dense a surface as possible. The swirling winds at Heinz Field could prove troublesome because it could trap air pockets between ice layers.
"The wind swirls here just like Buffalo, and it's a different element for us," he said, referring to Ralph Wilson Stadium, site of the 2008 Classic also involving the Penguins. "There are different elements from Mother Nature that can put us behind. Direct sunshine is one thing. Swirling wind is another."
Such threats won't keep Craig tuned to the Weather Channel before the Penguins and Washington Capitals play on the rink.
"We have pictures from Boston where I'm standing at the machine gate, and all you see is my figure in the snowstorm," he said, referring to New Year's Eve before last year's Classic at Fenway Park.
"You get up in the morning and look outside and that's what Mother Nature gives you to deal with," he said. "That's why I put together my crews. We have to think on our feet, and we have to make it work."
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