If Dan Craig had to choose an element that defines his career, it might very well be water. After all, as the National Hockey League’s senior director of facilities operations, Craig has seen more than his fair share of the stuff while overseeing the creation and maintenance of the league’s 30 rinks, making sure the best players in the world play on the best surfaces possible.
One of his biggest challenges is building and maintaining the outdoor ice surfaces for events such as the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic, just two of the six games that will be played in the open air during the 2013-2014 season. Canadian Geographic spoke with Craig about his career and the challenges of preparing for the NHL’s outdoor events.
CG What’s the biggest difficulty in creating an outdoor ice surface?
DC Mother Nature. The weather changes constantly from one hour to the next. We usually arrive 10 to 12 days ahead of the event, and you can bet that the weather we have when we get there isn’t the weather the event finishes with. During the 2011 Heritage Classic in Calgary it was 6 C when we were setting up. Three days later, it was -24 C. We’re well versed in preparing for that sort of thing.
CG The 2014 Winter Classic is at Michigan Stadium, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Is the weather going to be a problem?
DC There can be quite a bit of snow in that region, and we expect it to be blowing around. In an outdoor stadium it usually takes us a while to understand where the wind comes from, how it swirls and how it’s going to affect us. We’re prepared to spend half our day shovelling snow.
CG There are six outdoor games scheduled this season. How do you cope with the added workload and the pressure that comes with it?
DC The easiest way to describe it is on a hockey level. If your team is killing a penalty and your coach signals for you to get out there, you don’t say “Who, me?” You go do it. And we’ve done that. We’ve been preparing for this for a year.
CG One of the six outdoor games will be played in Los Angeles, at Dodger Stadium. How do you prepare for an outdoor game in California?
DC Our crew will be working at night in L.A., when it’s cooler. We have an insulated cover over the ice during the day.
CG How did you become known as the best icemaker in the world?
DC I grew up in northern Alberta, and have been in rinks since I was 16. It’s all about listening to what the players want, and to other professionals in the industry, then incorporating that into your job.
CG What’s the best trick of the trade you’ve learned?
DC Trying to survive on four hours of sleep per day for 14 days.
CG What’s it like working with your son, Mike?
DC It’s fantastic to have him around. He’s been on every outdoor event that we’ve had, except for the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo, so he’s very experienced. He can handle the pressure, but also handle his dad in tense situations.