CALGARY – Dan Craig will have his eyeballs on the ice throughout Sunday’s Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium.
But the NHL’s icemaker will know if he’s done a good job by the expression on the faces of the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames.
“I watch their skates, but the first thing I watch is their eyes because they’re like little kids at Christmas again,” Craig said. “They’re big men, but little boys out there having a good time.”
The job of Craig and his crew isn’t over when the puck drops for the Heritage Classic. They can’t stand around and watch the game. Everyone has their assignment “so I don’t have to be in 15 places at one time,” Craig said.
It’s their job to make sure small cracks or chips in the ice don’t widen into gaping holes, which they’d hear about from players and officials.
“We do get feedback from the players and it’s more to reinforce what we already know,” Craig said. “We’re usually ahead of the questions. Our crew really knows what’s going on.”
The Jasper, Alta., native can monitor ice temperatures both on his computer and his Blackberry and will continue to do so during Sunday’s game.
“I monitor it every 15 minutes to find out what’s going on underneath the floor, in the ice and on top of the ice,” he said.
A temperature of -5 C is ideal for ice, but Craig has to be prepared to deal with any weather and any environment.
He’s installed ice on Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Boston’s Fenway Park and Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, as well as in an indoor swimming pool with a diving board at one end for the 1998 Winter Olympics.
At the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on Jan. 1, the game start was pushed from the afternoon into the evening because of 10 C temperatures and rain.
Since the arrival of Craig’s refrigeration truck in Calgary on Feb. 10, he’s been making the ice for the Heritage Classic in harsh sunlight, wind, light snow and Arctic temperatures.
The projected temperature for Calgary at game time Sunday is -8 C with a few clouds, which is a far cry from the -30 C windchill Craig had to contend with for the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton.
“Every day we’re out there we have to adjust,” he said. “Hopefully Mother Nature isn’t going to take a day off and the hockey gods are here.”
Craig says he can’t relax even after the final buzzer sounds Sunday because he’s not done. It’ll be days before the ice comes out of McMahon and the schedule for it this week includes an outdoor Western Hockey League game Monday between the Calgary Hitmen and Regina Pats.
“The pressure is off on Feb. 26 when the final skater is off of here,” he said. “We’ve got WHL on Monday and all kinds of community skates after that. It’s a long road yet.”