Plan forming for building Winter Classic ice
Craig is ready to start turning baseball's treasured Wrigley Field into hockey's frozen gem for the Winter Classic 2009 on Jan. 1. The hometown Chicago Blackhawks will square up against the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings, with the puck to drop somewhere between the pitcher's mound and second base.
Craig is ready to build the rink -- dare we call it the Wrigley Wrink? -- and all-important ice surface. Really ready. As in yesterday-ready. Like now.
"We have some snow on the ground and it has been sitting at my place from 28 to 30 degrees," said Craig, the NHL's ice guru, who is more formally known as the NHL's Facilities Operations Manager. "I just wish all the equipment is together now. It's an anxious feeling. I wish I could put this thing together now. I know a couple of guys I talked to are ready to put it together now."
Winter Classic 2009 at Wrigley Field (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) is still more than a month away, but Craig, the architect of the ice that will be seen by millions of people across the world on New Year's Day, has been working on the biggest project of his season since June.
His calendar is finally set.
Craig touches down in Chicago on Dec. 14 and minus a three-day holiday break for Christmas will be in the Windy City until Jan. 7. He has a staff of 10 people that will be working with him on the build-up and takedown of the rink. Make no mistake, Craig is the leader.
"We're probably bigger than what we will be again because this is our first time with this equipment and I want to make sure everybody has hands on," Craig said of his staff, which includes ice technicians from various arenas around the NHL.
Before he lands in Chicago to begin the process of turning Wrigley Field into a hockey rink, Craig has plenty of work to do.
As you read this, the 53-foot trailer that will hold "exactly what an NHL rink has in its engine room," including compressors, a condensing tower, receiver, chiller, pumps, etc. is being manufactured in Mobile, Ala., by Cimco Refrigeration.
Craig said the NHL takes possession of the trailer Dec. 8 and it will be delivered to Chicago by Dec. 15. It will stay in a holding yard until Dec. 17, when it arrives at Wrigley Field. The trailer will be stationed beyond the left-center field wall on Waveland Avenue.
It will be the NHL's first traveling refrigeration system.
"This trailer can go anywhere at any time," Craig said. "There is a warehouse just outside of Toronto where the trailer will stay."
The rink floor, which consists of 240 panels of aluminum flooring for the main rink and 120 panels for the auxiliary rink, is currently being manufactured just outside of Anaheim. Two containers of panels have already been delivered to Egan, Minn., and next week Craig will inspect them "to take a look at our motors and lifting mechanism to make sure everything is centered and proper and ready to go," he said.
By Dec. 1 all four containers will have been shipped to Minnesota. At that time Craig said he would "make sure we have everything we need prior to them being shipped to Wrigley on Dec. 12."
Craig expects to be able to get into Wrigley Field on Dec. 15 to begin the process of laying plywood. They need to build a road that will enable them to unload all the equipment and get it into the stadium. The base of the rink floor is also made of plywood.
The extra two days before the trailer and aluminum panels arrive could prove to be beneficial to Craig and his staff. They will only have one entrance into Wrigley Field.
"We will off load on the street and bring everything inside," he said. "It gives us a feel of, 'Yes we can go in there,' and 'Do this,' and 'No don't go this way, go the other way.' "
Craig anticipates having the panels down, the boards up and an inch of ice built by Dec. 23, when the staff will leave for their Christmas break. Because of the time crunch last year in Buffalo -- the NHL didn't take over Ralph Wilson Stadium until the night of Dec. 23 -- Craig and his staff worked through Christmas.
The staff will return to Wrigley Field on Dec. 27 and spend the next three days putting the finishing touches on the rink. Craig hopes to have it all done by the 29th, but since the teams aren't scheduled to practice on the ice until the 31st, having an extra day allows him to not worry too much about the possibility of inclement weather.
Craig said he doesn't anticipate the ice being completely painted, with lines and logos, until Dec. 29.
"This is brand new equipment and we're pretty sure we're going to have a couple of little glitches and bugs in there," Craig said. "The last thing I want to do is get it up and painted and then have a breakdown and I have white paint all over the field.
"We will have a good base and on the 27th we can manicure it. We can paint white on the 28th and build up on the 29th. If we need to that gives us a bonus day in there in case of bad weather. We can shift it and still be ready for the 30th."
Due to some public and private events that will take place on the ice in the days following the game, the teardown process won't begin until Jan. 5. Craig said the NHL has to be out of the stadium by 6 p.m. on Jan. 6, but he doesn't anticipate any problems.
"Our takedown doesn't take much time," Craig said. "All that will be left is us and once we start getting the ice out of there it doesn't take that long at all as long as the weather cooperates with us. Everybody we are using on this event have other jobs. We have some guys coming in on the front end and going home. Some guys on the back end and going home. There is not one person that I have that can stay past the 7th or else I'm out there by myself taking the thing apart."
Craig probably could do that, but he'd rather not. After all, once this project is over, Craig has to get back to his day job of monitoring every ice surface in the National Hockey League.