wcrinkbeingbuilt

The race is on for NHL’s ice architect Dan Craig to build Winter Classic rink on time

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and almost everyone else in the hockey world, Thursday night’s teaser and HBO’s captivating 24/7 series emphasized the fact that the Winter Classic needs to happen as soon as possible. Most of us are dying to see the league’s latest outdoor game.

Yet for at least one man – the NHL’s chief architect Dan Craig * – that countdown couldn’t last long enough. Thursday was a big night for him too, but because of the other championship winning team from Pittsburgh; he was finally given a chance to begin the rink-building process for the Winter Classic after the Steelers wrapped up their dominant performance against the Carolina Panthers.

Actually, Craig doesn’t even get until January 1, 2011 to set up the rink, either. The regulation-sized ice surface must be ready to go at Heinz Field by noon on December 30th, as the news media will test the ice and then the Mario Lemieux/Peter Bondra-fueled Alumni Game will take place on the 31st.

If anyone can do it, Craig would be the man – he’s been working on ice surfaces since for 44 years and has been working for the league for 13 years – but it’s still an overwhelming undertaking. Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a fascinating story on Craig’s conundrum. Here are some of the most pertinent bits, but I recommend reading the entire thing.

“We will take to the field at midnight,” said Mr. Craig in a conference call, sounding like Union General George Meade before the Battle of Gettysburg, and indeed they will wage war: against common sense, time and the weather.

Mr. Craig has his marching orders: Have a hockey rink ready to go by noon Dec. 30. His to-the-minute battle plan involves equipment roadways, platforms, miles of tubing, 3,000 gallons of coolant, 20,000 gallons of water and pleas to the weather gods to allow the work to proceed.

“It’s a continual evolution of what Mother Nature is going to throw at you,” he said.

(snip)

The 300-ton, 53-foot custom-built refrigeration truck, which pumps the coolant under the ice, will arrive Friday. The stage and panels for the ice will take 10 to 12 hours to complete, he said. Those panels contain the coolant to freeze the water and, if all goes well, he’ll be making ice by Christmas night. On Tuesday, his crew will paint the ice with hockey lines and logos, then build another inch of ice.

Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and others will star in the Winter Classic on New Year’s day, but if you want to discuss heroes, Craig might be the man. You can watch the rink building process at Heinz Field (this post’s main image captures a piece of the process) via NHL.com’s web cam here.
* Not to be confused with the latest actor to take on the role of James Bond, although Craig might use some gadgets that would impress the international spy.

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal