Ice guru Dan Craig has made the ice for each Winter Classic since the NHL began holding outdoor games. (Elsa/Getty Images)
"'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse."
That was the case in Dan Craig's house on the 24th of December. Who might you ask is Dan Craig? At this moment, Dan Craig is the most important person to the jewel we call the Winter Classic (Jan. 1, CBC, CBCSports.ca, 1 p.m. ET).
He is the best icemaker on the planet and is under the most trying of all Winter Classic circumstances
in order to get a sheet of ice ready for the players to perform.
The current weather forecast for the game on Saturday is a high of 9 C with a 50 per cent chance of showers. These are less than perfect conditions to say the least. Give Dan anything and he can make it happen. But rain?
On the day of the game the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will put $120,506,000 US worth of players' salaries on the ice (these values are in this year's dollars only and do not reflect future deals).
Making a perfect sheet of ice for the players and battling Mother Nature at the same time is a lot of pressure for one individual. I forgot to include that the NHL is relentlessly searching for a major U.S. TV deal and all of the dance partners will be there.
Wouldn't that be a setback if the game was canned due to weather. The NHL has built scale into this event and has owned every New Year's Day since it began. There is too much on the line for this day not to go off without a hitch.
Dan puts together the best ice crew in the NHL, as he plucks people from across the league to prepare for the Winter Classic. They all begin work on Christmas Eve and work 24/7 till the event. Hard holiday work
This is not the HBO 24/7 TV fluff but hard, intense work, and his crew has done it for all of the NHL's outdoor games. Their hard work has led to some spectacular moments, but little credit is given to these guys who make it happen behind the scenes.
Sidney Crosby's shootout goal was special as the snow fell in Buffalo a few years ago, but no one mentioned that Dan had more ice time than Crosby, as he fixed the countless holes in the ice with carbon dioxide. This moment doesn't happen without Dan's expertise and commitment.
And remember, the ice crew starts this process on Christmas Eve!
When I started in the NHL in 1985 there were some rinks where the quality of the ice was better on my windshield in the winter than in the arena. That is not the case anymore, since the Dan Craig Era began in the NHL.
Whether it's a Kraft Hockeyville game that is played 50 miles from the Alaskan border in Terrace, B.C., or a game played in Europe for the Premiere Cup, the sheet of ice that the performers play on is top notch.
Dan may have his biggest challenge ahead of him. Between the alumni game on Friday morning plus the team family skates and various corporate functions which will happen until game time, it will only made the task more difficult.
One thing is for certain as the day approaches: the beard that Dan Craig grows for the Winter Classic will only become greyer.
But I know the event will go off with success, thanks to a ton of hard work from the ice crew, and I'm sure the first thought in Dan's mind will be: "When is the next one?"
Back to accessibility links