Unpredictable Temperatures No Worry for Heritage Classic
CALGARY -- Mother Nature won't be wearing a jersey, but you can be she'll be a large factor in determining the success of the 2011 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic.
The game between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens is slated for Feb. 20 at McMahon Stadium and preparations are underway for the outdoor spectacular, the second of its kind in this National Hockey League season.
Given Calgary's fickle weather, the temperature on game day could be minus-20 (Celsius) or plus-10 (a range of just below zero to 50 degrees Fahrenheit), but that discrepancy isn't worrying Dan Craig.
"From the 2003 Heritage Classic (in Edmonton) ... with what we encountered in Pittsburgh ... right now we have encountered every element Mother Nature has to throw at us,'' said Craig, the NHL Facilities Operations Manager. "I watch the long-term weather forecast quite closely. Right now, it says minus-5, minus-6 on game day and as low as minus-10. If I could pick an ideal temperature, it would be minus-5, minus-6.''
In a conference call on Monday, Craig noted that the refrigeration truck has been on a cross-country tour and will be in Calgary on Thursday. It's by the magic of that mobile ice factory that fans are able to enjoy the special outdoor offerings from the NHL, the first of which was actually a preseason game in Las Vegas in 1991.
On Jan. 1 in Pittsburgh, the Penguins and Washington Capitals enjoyed relatively balmy conditions, including rain. Organizers could encounter the same in Calgary, though it's the fluctuation in temperatures that will provide the greatest challenge.
"In talking to my brother (who lives in Calgary), there was a 40-degree change in two days,'' said Craig. "What we've done is we've purchased an in-line heater which is in conjunction with the refrigeration truck, if it gets down to minus-15 or minus-20. The heater would kick in so the lower end of the ice won't get too brittle, too dehydrated so that we're able to maintain an NHL-caliber surface.''
Another difference is that the rink will be built on a sandbox covered with plywood, rather than a Styrofoam deck.
Craig recalled two of his more difficult assignments over the years: putting ice in Japan in 1998 when the Flames and San Jose Sharks met there; and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino.
"You take what you know from all of them and you try to pull every trick out of the bag for the best players in the world to play on,'' he said. "This will be a very fast sheet of ice.''