Some Monday musings from the NHL and rest of the hockey world to prepare you for the upcoming week.
Dan Craig does not like the moniker of the ice guru. He's a humble Western Canadian, but there is no doubt the NHL's senior director of facilities operations is as cool as a cucumber.
Between New Year's Day, with the annual Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Heritage Classic in Vancouver on March 2, Craig and his ice crew will make sure the ice conditions will be as good as possible for a record six outdoor games this season.
In the past 10-plus years with the outdoor games, Craig has dealt with warm and frigid temperatures, snow and rain and still has produced suitable surfaces.
He's not worried about the different elements he will encounter at the University of Michigan Stadium on Wednesday to the warmer climate at Dodger Stadium later next month. The 57-year-old Craig is confident he will produce suitable conditions.
"I'll get enough sleep," he said. "I've got a good staff to work with and we're not worried."
Craig began taking care of rinks when he was a teenager growing up in Jasper, Alta. He was 14 when he began working at the local rink, learning how to make ice and drive a Zamboni. He later moved to nearby Bonnyville to continue his ice magic and before he knew it he was hired to keep a watchful eye over the Edmonton Oilers rink.
The old Northlands Coliseum was known around the NHL as the best hard and fast ice surface in the league. So when the NHL determined that it needed to improve ice conditions in each building, Craig was lured away from Edmonton to work in the NHL by then league executive Brian Burke in 1997.
This season will provide Craig with his greatest challenge because of the number of outdoor games. Even in Michigan this week, there is not only the rink at University of Michigan Stadium, in which the a record crowd of more than 107,000 is expected, there will be a combined five NCAA (2), OHL (2) and AHL games will be played at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.
The Winter Classic will be the 646th regular-season meeting between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs since 1926-27, and after more than eight decades their records against one another are almost identical.
Detroit: 276-273-96, 648 points (170-107-48 at home)
Toronto: 276-275-94, 646 points (109-170-46 on the road)
Comerica Park Hero No. 1
If you missed the dazzling near coast-to-coast overtime winner from forward Josh Pitt to give his Western Michigan Broncos 3-2 upset victory over the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines on Friday you should take a look.
On a power play, the 21-year-old Pitt took a drop pass inside his own end, skated past a first Michigan defender in the neutral zone, flipped the puck past Wolverines defenceman Michael Downing and forward Justin Selman. Pitt then split the two opponents, eluded a hit attempt from Downing, to score with 18.2 seconds remaining in the extra period.
The goal was celebrated by Broncos fans from Western Michigan to Pitt's hometown of Brockville, Ont. The next night the Broncos beat Michigan Tech 1-0 in overtime to claim the first Great Lakes Invitational (usually played at Joe Louis Arena) for Andy Murray's team since 1986.
The six-foot-three, 200-pound son of Lorie and Ritchie Pitt played tier II junior for the Kemptville 73s and Ottawa Jr. Senators. He is in his sophomore season at Western Michigan. Pitt, an exercise science major attended the Winnipeg Jets development camp last summer.
Comerica Park Hero No. 2
Steven Janes, 20, certainly has made his overage season with the Windsor Spitfires a memorable one.
With the game tied against the Saginaw Spirit on Sunday, Janes scored a shorthanded goal with five minutes and 23 seconds remaining in the third period from a bad angle to give his club a 6-5 win in the first Ontario Hockey League outdoor game.
Windsor could not stay out of the penalty box in the third period. The Spitfires gave the Spirit eight power-play chances in the final 20 minutes and the Spirit capitalized on two of those opportunities earlier in the period to draw even at 5-5 with Windsor.
But then the six-foot-three, 203-pound Janes of Etobicoke, Ont., who attended a Vancouver Canucks prospects camp a couple years ago, checked in for his first shorthanded goal in 231 career OHL regular-season games.
Canadian Olympic goalies
Each week we rank the top contenders for the three goalkeeper spots on the Canadian Olympic team based on their play to date.
1. Carey Price (Montreal) - He has won four of his past five starts and has made 867 saves this season, third most in the NHL.
2. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver) - He hasn't played since the Christmas break because of an undisclosed injury.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh) - He now has won four of his last five outings and his 22 wins is best among Canadian goalies.
4. Josh Harding (Minnesota) - He returned after a week off to adjust his multiple sclerosis medications with a shaky 26 of 31-save outing versus the lowly New York Islanders.
5. Mike Smith (Phoenix) - He has faced the most shots on goal this season at 1,032 and made the second most saves at 943.
By the Numbers
7 - Teams that haven't been shutout this season, all from the West in Vancouver, Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim, Phoenix, Colorado and Dallas.
7 - League-leading shutouts posted by the Los Angeles Kings. The next best are the New Jersey Devils at five.
10 - Game win streak for Anaheim that was halted on Sunday. The Ducks only are the third team from the West to win 10 or more consecutive games since 2005-06. The Sharks (11 in 2007-08) and Blackhawks (11 in 2012-13) are the others.
145 - Players who have suited up for both the Red Wings and Maple Leafs.
1 - Player who has played in 500 or more games for both Toronto and Detroit. Hockey Hall of Famer Norm Ullman played in 875 games for the Red Wings and 535 for the Maple Leafs.
-10 - Celsius, with a wind chill of -14 and cloudy, is the forecast for Ann Arbor on New Year's Day, according to the Weather Network.
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