Foxborough, MA. — The weather at Gillette Stadium, where the 2016 Bridgestone Winter Classic is being held Jan. 1, was cooperating on Wednesday.
Clouds covered the sky, the wind could hardly be felt, and the temperature was a mild -1 C.
How would those conditions be greeted by ice-maker Dan Craig this coming Friday?
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“If we have a day like today, perfect,” said Craig. “Let’s go, drop the puck right now. Bring the boys, put the equipment. Let’s get at it.”
What Craig — who has been making ice since his days as a 14-year-old Zamboni driver in Jasper, Alta. — fears is weather like they had in Foxborough over the 48 hours that led up to Wednesday morning.
A cold front brought heavy winds and a bit of snow on Monday. Heavy rain followed by freezing rain Tuesday had Craig’s crew working from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m. Wednesday.
Craig’s been through similar things at every outdoor game he’s overseen since 2003. He’s seen it all and dealt with it in stride.
As much as the variable weather induces stress for Craig and his team, it’s become easier to deal with considering the technological improvements to the ice maintenance process from year-to-year.
Craig wouldn’t get into specifics on the mechanics.
“I should write a book because there’s that many [improvements],” he said. “The biggest one is patience. I have to tell the guys to tell me, ‘be patient.’”
In the past, Craig would immediately alter his plan to deal with inclement weather, but now he holds off until he’s absolutely forced to make changes.
“It’s because I don’t live in the area, I don’t know exactly where the [weather] systems [are] coming from, how they turn and where they’re going to go.
“For me it’s pretty weird that something that’s 50 miles away — all of a sudden it’s here, or it just sits there and you’re waiting for it to get here.”
For as much as Craig can’t pay too much attention to weather changes that might not happen, he admits he has his eyes locked on the forecast.
The temperature Friday is predicted to be hovering around 5 C and the wind doesn’t appear as though it will be a factor.
The sun peeking through the clouds is another story.
“Within this building here, the sun is going to be — if the sun comes out — it’ll be coming right off the bench probably around 1:56 p.m.,” said Craig. “[The concern] is not so much on the surface itself; it’s right against the boards because we get a lot of reflection from the boards down and it makes [the ice] right along the edge a little bit soft.
“We want to make sure that it’s hard and crisp because when a guy is making a play into a corner along the boards, you want to make sure his skate doesn’t… As soon as a player feels it drop a little, he feels like’s off his game and we don’t want that.”
The Boston Bruins, who tested the ice with their families Wednesday, didn’t appear concerned with any part of it.
“It was pretty good for the first day out here,” said forward Max Talbot, who will appear in his fourth Winter Classic Friday. “You got about 100 people skating around for 45 minutes, so it’s good. They’re doing a great job putting this all together.”