Winter Classic Rink Set To Be Filled Friday

23 Dec

CITIZENS BANK PARK — The decking is down. The boards are up. There is a small area boxed off around the pitcher’s mound at Citizens Bank Park. The covered up circle is one of few remaining signs that it is a ballpark and not a hockey rink. But don’t tell that to Dan Craig, the NHL’s director of facilities operations. His game has only just begun.

“I’m in the first 10 minutes yet,” said Craig. “I haven’t even figured out what their power play is yet. I’m waiting to figure out the strategy. Do I dump and chase? Do I do a 1-3-1? What am I doing?”

While the strategy metaphors might not fit exactly, it seems like everything else about the preparations for the Winter Classic fit perfectly. Craig last addressed the media on Monday when only a little bit of decking was down. Slowly but surely, the home of the Phillies looks like the home of the Flyers — well, except for that whole ‘having a roof’ thing.

“We have the same tonnage that the Wells Fargo [Center] rink has, but we have the aluminum deck with the piping within the deck,” said Craig. “Aluminum is the best thermo-transfer that you can find. Once we get the temperature, it holds that temperature and it’s almost like a quick freeze.”

On Friday, the rink will be filled with 20,000 gallons of water, and frozen down to the two-inch surface that will be skated on for four games.

“Plain ol’ city water,” said Craig, “just like everyone else in Philadelphia drinks.”

Filling the rink won’t really be the challenge. The ice needs to be 22 degrees on the surface. Keeping it cold is where things get technical. There are six-inch pipes full of glycol, an anti-freeze that will keep the rink cold. This installment of the Winter Classic marks the sixth game that Craig’s crew has worked outdoors for and they really have it down to a science. But there is plenty of room for error.

In fact there’s 450 feet of room. That’s the distance between the “ice truck” parked on Hartranft Street and the rink in the middle of the Citizens Bank Park infield. The pipes have to go through an elevation change of about 30 feet from the field up Ashburn Alley, laid across scaffolding up the right-field seats, across the floor where Phillies fans usually test their pitching speed, through a window and out to the truck.

It sounds like a headache, but it’s the thing that Craig looks forward to most in his job.

“It’s the challenge of the year,” he said smiling. “You’re outdoors. Whatever Mother Nature gives you, that’s why you do. That’s why we get up everyday and we want a challenge. That’s why we do what we do. We want to bring the game back to our roots and we want to take it back outside where it started and we want everyone to enjoy it.”

After the rink is filled on Friday, weather permitting, it will set a whole week before being skated on. During that time, the rest of Citizens Bank Park will get a hockey facelift with signage, banners and logos complementing the giant rink that has found its way to the infield.

At that point, with most of the technical aspects figured out, Craig should be somewhere around the second intermission in his game.

For a photo gallery of what the ballpark looks like four days into the process, click here.

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