Buffalo crews turn Ralph Wilson's backyard into NHL rink

Preparations have begun for the New Year's Day game between Buffalo and Pittsburgh, bad weather or no bad weather.

Sabres meet Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's Day in front of huge throng

Fighting heavy wind and blowing snow, NHL work crews completed the initial phase of converting Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium into a hockey rink for next week's Winter Classic outdoor game.

Crews spent the past 24 hours surveying and protecting the field, unloading equipment and establishing refrigeration lines in preparation for the Buffalo Sabres' game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's Day (CBC, 1 p.m. ET).

That game will be the NHL's second played outdoors, and first in the U.S. after the Oilers played the Montreal Canadiens at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 22, 2003.

The field's conversion began within hours of the final whistle of the Buffalo Bills' home finale, a 38-21 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

Crews began by removing the goal posts and laying large tarps, held down by wooden boards, to protect the field. The initial work was completed despite wind gusts of over 50 kilometres per hour, and a steady and sometimes blinding snowfall.

The wind posed a near-dangerous problem on Sunday night.

With workers standing nearby, a heavy gust picked up one of the tarps —27metres long and covering the width of the football field — and lifted it into the stands of the east end zone. Several workers managed to duck beneath the tarp in time, and nobody was injured.

Numerous all-terrain vehicles and golf carts, as well as one SUV, were driven out on to the field to provide additional weight to hold down the tarps.

Field needs to be levelled

Horan said the next step is levelling the field, which is crowned, to begin erecting the temporary rink.

Organizers, who plan to work round the clock, hope to have the rink built by Wednesday and begin making the ice a day later. The two teams are scheduled to practise at the stadium next Monday afternoon.

The game has been sold out since tickets first went on sale in September. The 42,000 tickets made available to fans were scooped up within half an hour.

Incase ofbad weather, the NHL has the option of postponing the game to Jan. 2.