CHICAGO – As a 53-foot-long refrigeration trailer pulled up slowly on the snow-covered streets in front of Wrigley Field on Tuesday, Hall of Famer Bobby Hull jumped into the passenger’s seat for a short ride.
The trailer was delivering the ice-making equipment for the New Year’s Day outdoor hockey game – the Winter Classic – between the Detroit Red Wings and the team Hull led to its last Stanley Cup in 1961, the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I wish I could have played in one of these,” Hull said as cameras recorded his every move. He added that he hoped the weather Jan. 1 would match Tuesday’s when cold temperatures accompanied another early snow.
“A 19-to-20 degree day (Fahrenheit) with snowflakes falling would be perfect,” he said.
Workers were already busy inside the stadium setting up the boards and creating a foundation for the rink before the truck even arrived.
Wrigley Field will be covered by a couple of tarps and most of the heavy equipment used in the construction will stay on the warning tracks.
Nonetheless, Cubs chairman Crane Kenney said there is a plan in place to redo the field before the season begins.
“Our plan is that we replace the entire playing surface. It’s in the budget and that’s what we are expecting to do,” Kenney said. “If it turns out because the ground being so frozen – it actually helps us with the ground being that cold – that we don’t have to replace it, that’s great. But our anticipation is that we will.”
Kenney said the game, expected to draw around 41,000, is already sold out. The best seats for the game, where the rink will run from first base to third base and start just behind the pitcher’s mound, could be ones that aren’t necessarily the best for baseball.
“The upper deck will probably be the best seats. The bleachers, as well, but it’s the world turned upside down,” Kenney added. “Being down right next to the field, you’ll have a little difficulty with the boards.”
He said there will be video screens in what is right-centre and left-centre fields so fans can follow the puck.
Last year’s inaugural Winter Classic at the Buffalo Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium – the NHL’s first outdoor game in the United States – drew a league-record 71,217 fans. The Pittsburgh Penguins topped the host Sabres 2-1 in a shootout.