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Zambonis arrive as Wrigley Field takes shape ahead of Winter Classic

CHICAGO - Usually at Wrigley Field, it's a big Zambrano (Carlos) that draws the attention, the six-foot-five, 255-pound ace of the Chicago Cubs' pitching staff.

On Thursday, two weeks before the Winter Classic outdoor hockey game between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, it was the Zambonis everyone was watching.

As the two ice resurfacing machines were being taken off a flatbed truck, the brakes on one of the vehicles locked and it went tumbling off the back.

"We were trying to offload it. It stalled and we tried to lift it up to start it up again and we found out that the brakes were frozen," said Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operation manager.

"Everybody saw the little baby come flying off there."

The machine survived the fall and so did the driver and both were OK, Craig reported on a day when workers were laying down the base for the rink with aluminum sheets, hoping to start the ice-making on Friday - if the weather co-operated.

According to the NHL, more than 400 workers will take part in transforming the second-oldest ball park in the major leagues into a hockey venue for just the second regular-season outdoor game ever played in the United States.

They will use 52,000 feet of plywood and 32,000 feet of decking in the project, along with 20,000 gallons of water to create ice and 350 gallons of paint. Scaffolding being put up in front of the famed brick outfield walls at Wrigley Field will be used to recreate the ivy that is green in the summer and also used for advertising.

The goals will be along the first and third base lines with the penalty box just on the second base side of the pitcher's mound.

Craig said it takes about 24 hours to create an inch of ice and he hopes to have an inch or an inch and a quarter down by Monday, even with the second winter storm of the week forecast for Chicago on Thursday night.

Dealing with inclement weather is something he's ready for, especially after last year's Winter Classic in Orchard Park, N.Y., featured game-time snow when the Buffalo Sabres played the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We had over 2 1/2 inches of snow come down during the game," Craig said, adding that it didn't seem to bother the players.

"If you watched the game last year when we were doing the national anthems, the guys were smiling. They wanted to be out there. Those guys looked like they were 10 year old again."

Craig said he also has much more time to prepare the entire project this time - over two weeks, compared to eight days last year. The NHL took over Ralph Wilson Stadium hours after the Buffalo Bills' home season finale on Dec. 23 a year ago. During the game, there were some problems with ice coming up that created delays for patching.

"There was just not enough time to make sure we were 100 per cent solid," Craig said.



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