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.

Rangers’ losing streak continues with OT defeat vs. Penguins

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The New York Rangers needed a win.

Their slow start is among the surprises early this season, as the Rangers have now lost four in a row with only one win to their record through seven games so far. They’ve had trouble scoring. Mistakes at inopportune moments have been costly.

Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the Rangers had a brutal start and a brutal finish in a 5-4 overtime loss to their Metropolitan Division foes.

Phil Kessel scored just 43 seconds into the game, utilizing that dangerous wrist shot off the rush to beat Henrik Lundqvist top corner. By the end of one period, it was 2-0 Pittsburgh.

Despite a second-period comeback, with three goals in under three minutes, and taking the lead in the third period, the Rangers couldn’t hang on and the Penguins won in overtime.

Sidney Crosby scored a crafty tying goal with only 56 seconds remaining in regulation, waiting for the Rangers defender to touch the puck negating what would’ve likely been called a hand pass on Pittsburgh before firing a no-look backhander toward the net from behind the red line. The puck deflected in off Lundqvist, helping send this one to overtime.

Evgeni Malkin capped off a four-point night with the overtime winner.

“Right now it’s a little bit challenging as far as putting a whole game together for us,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault following the game. “But this group is very accountable … and I’m very confident that if we keep doing a lot of the things we’re doing right now, we’re going to be on the right track.”

A trio of Rangers recorded their first goals of the season. That included David Desharnais, Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich, although the latter played less than 10 minutes on Tuesday, despite nearly four minutes in power play time, and of course the goal.

The Rangers host the New York Islanders on Thursday. Another loss, and one has to wonder how hot the seat may be getting under Vigneault.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Kucherov joins elite company with hot start, but Devils defeat Bolts

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The Nikita Kucherov Show continues.

The Tampa Bay Lightning star forward maintained his torrid pace Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, scoring his eighth goal of the season — in just his seventh game.

The Bolts took the lead in the second period on goals from Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, but couldn’t hang on and ultimately lost to the Devils (how about this start for New Jersey?) by a score of 5-4 in the shootout.

There is no denying, however, that this has been a special start for the 24-year-old Kucherov and he has joined elite company as a result.

That’s a perfect shot on Cory Schneider.

Read more: Kucherov’s star continues to rise

Kucherov also added an assist on Vladislav Namestnikov‘s beautiful first-period goal. The Devils, though, completed the comeback to continue their strong start to the season, both in wins and goals for. They entered Tuesday’s contest among the league leaders in scoring and surged out to an early lead following a wild five-goal first period.

Drew Stafford opened the scoring for New Jersey and then tied it late in the third period. Kyle Palmieri scored the winner in the shootout.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Sharks

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It’s been a difficult start to the season for both the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens, however both clubs have an opportunity to change that beginning tonight.

The Sharks host the Habs and you can catch the action on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Rangers, Sharks need to wake up from early slumps

Canadiens looking to spark, not ‘bury’ Alex Galchenyuk after move to fourth line

It’s early but the Habs are struggling to find the back of the net

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: Nolan Patrick’s sweet drop pass sets up Dale Weise

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That was quite the second period for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

The Flyers scored four straight goals to take a commanding lead, but Nolan Patrick put the exclamation point on the frenzied frame with this sweet drop pass to set up Dale Weise for Philadelphia’s fourth goal.

That’s the second assist and third point of the season for the 19-year-old Patrick.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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