Before the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic refrigeration truck even pulled into a grand welcome reception on Van Ness Street outside Fenway Park on Thursday afternoon, Dan Craig — the NHL's facilities operations manager who is better known as "The Ice Man" — had his crew hard at work laying down the foundation for the rink on which the Bruins and Flyers will do battle.
There is much more than meets the eye that goes into preparation, not only for the game but also for building the rink itself.
"Once we knew where the event was going to be, I was here right away to check the leveling of the field, angles, terrain, all of that, and I was registering it away," Craig said. "I've already gone over the layout of this so many times in my head, and now this week, it's a reality and time do it. I'm pretty excited that we're finally building this year's rink."
The fact of the matter is that there is plenty to do before they're actually building the Fenway rink. One of the most important elements of the construction to Craig and his 200-man crew is to preserve the sanctity of the historic ballpark. They'll also need to elevate the rink and also a surrounding workspace with roadways that will be essential to transport the necessary parts and ingredients of the project from the refrigeration truck. Craig has already been planning and talking to the head groundskeeper at Fenway Park, Dave Mellor, to assure him that the field will be unharmed. Craig also wanted to learn the lay of the land.
"We are going to show this grand old ballpark the utmost respect — the same as I would expect if anyone came into any of our NHL facilities," Craig said. "That's why we're working with the grounds crew here to make sure that everything is taken care of so that, when we leave, it will be like we were never here."
In order to do that, Craig and his crew had already placed a tarp on the field, and as his meeting with the media took place Thursday afternoon, workers were installing high-density Styrofoam, 52,000 feet of plywood and then 32,000 square feet of heavy-duty DuraDeck material on top. All of this was to serve as the foundation for the rink and a means for the transportation of equipment and everything necessary to build and maintain the rink without altering the Fenway field in the least.
As Craig pointed out, it sounds like a lot of tedious or extra work, but it's the professional and courteous way to treat your host. While he won't admit it, it's probably one of the main reasons he is entrusted with this project each season.
"It's because you want everybody to have a defined spot," he said. "You don't want forklifts going from point A to point B and driving wherever. If we did this media briefing on the field, we would tell everybody stay on the roadway, do not walk on the grass. Don't veer off the roadway because it's easier for you to go from point A to point B. Take the roadway. It'll take you an extra 20 seconds."
Once the roadways are in place, the ice panels are then brought in and laid down. Inside those ice panels is the piping that carries the 3,000 gallons of coolant used to keep the ice fit for skating. But while all of this may seem interesting to watch and learn about to the general public, Craig described the process over the next two days as quite the opposite to watch.
"Watching paint dry, watching grass grow. That's basically what it's going to be," he said. "There won't be a whole lot going on. … We'll be ready for Monday morning."
Monday morning is when the piping and freezing panels will all be installed. On Tuesday, the boards, benches and framework of a functioning rink will go up, and by Tuesday night, Craig and the crew will begin making ice with the plan of handing a working sheet of ice over to the Red Sox and Bruins by Friday, Dec. 18.
At that point, the rink will resemble a pond or backyard rink with rudimentary painting and necessary lines for pick-up games. There will be no advertising on the boards or ice and no Winter Classic or Bruins and Red Sox emblems. Only after the Red Sox and Bruins have their time will the rink start to be designed to look like an NHL rink.
Then, the final preparations for the big game will begin, and Craig and his team will focus on maintenance and Mother Nature, trying to figure out which one of a zillion scenarios could unfold on game day.
"There's really not much more in terms of construction after that, and it becomes more follow-up and maintenance," Craig said.
But as he notes, the elements, as they did with a week of treacherous weather leading into the first Winter Classic in Buffalo, can reverse that process and create reconstruction work.
"Mother Nature can beat you into the ground, or you can get a glorious day like this and get two days worth of work into it," he said. "We just keep a close eye on it. There's nothing you can do when it comes to the weather and controlling it. You just roll with it."
Craig and his crew will continue rolling with it for a week after this season's Winter Classic, as the Boston College and Boston University men's teams bring the Battle Of Commonwealth Ave. to the Fenway ice surface on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. The Northeastern and New Hampshire women's squads face off before them at 4 p.m.
After that, the goal for Craig is have him and his crew in hibernation and recovery mode by Jan. 14, with Fenway patiently awaiting the cleats of Red Sox players.
"Like I said," he reiterated, "it will be like we were never here."
NESN.com's James Murphy will be answering one Winter Classic question every day in December.
Thursday, Dec. 10: How did the Winter Classic end up in Boston?
Saturday, Dec. 12: What was the Cold War Game?