Commentary

When Fenway freezes over

Producing 2010 Winter Classic takes teamwork -- and some luck

Updated: December 29, 2009, 1:49 PM ET
By Matt Kalman | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- In baseball terms, think of the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago as spring training and the 2010 Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Fenway Park as the pennant race.

After the first midwinter game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo -- a football venue -- was held two years ago, there were obvious adjustments to be made last winter before holding the second contest at a baseball stadium, not to mention one of the oldest on the planet.

Now that the game is headed to a ballpark that nearly matches Wrigley in age, the NHL believes it has all the kinks worked out.

"Having gone into a baseball stadium last year, something almost as old as this one, we learned a lot," said Don Renzulli, the NHL's senior vice president of events and entertainment, shortly after the refrigeration truck made its celebrated arrival at the home of the Boston Red Sox. "Now, where we had issues last year was mainly on keeping the ballpark warm so we had running water. The Red Sox have worked -- and obviously with all the construction over the last couple of years -- have constructed areas where they can keep areas warm. So between the dugouts on that lower concourse there's heat running right now that will run through game day. [It] mainly keeps running water going, keeps the bathrooms open, things like that."

[+] EnlargeWinter Classic truck
Matt Kalman The refrigeration truck arrives at Fenway to mark the start of preparations for the 2010 Winter Classic on Jan. 1.

Another logistical issue involved making sure there was room on the concourses for people to grab concessions during period breaks and also to figure out how to restock those stands with food and drink through the throngs of people. The NHL will use the Yawkey Way area to make sure there's more space.

But, of course, what everyone wants to know about is the ice -- which will be situated between third and first base just like it was at Wrigley. But there are parts of the Fenway experience that will make life easier for NHL facilities operations manager Dan Craig.

"One of the big differences here is where we're positioning the truck. Our truck is closer to our rink than where we were in Chicago, so our return is a lot quicker going back into the compressor. So if we have a warm day, it's not a concern," Craig said.

"Being that we have such a short run, we are able to go with just a single 6-inch line instead of a double 6-inch line that we did last year to make sure that everything was taken care of the way it was supposed to," he continued. "Like Don said, off of first and third is where poles are laid for drainage. That is all taken care of so we don't have any problems at the end of the rinks with building a thicker sheet of ice there. So the biggest difference is how much closer we are to the rink."

When the truck arrived, about five days earlier than last winter, crews were already hard at work. As Craig explained, the workers were doing "the basic lower construction," including building roads so that the NHL can keep its equipment off the turf as much possible. By Friday there should be a full outline of the rink with "3 inches of insulation underneath and a full ArmorDeck top so that when we roll in here on Monday we can put our ice panels down."

The league didn't use ArmorDeck last year. It's a product that helps distribute the weight of the rink.

Every member of the crew will arrive this weekend, and the construction really kicks into high gear Monday.

"You will see they're hand-picked," Craig said. "They have passion, and it's one of those things where it doesn't matter what hour of the day it is. If we need to be making ice, we'll be out there making ice, just like dad does in the backyard, just like I did with my son. And that's one of those things where you just sit there and you know that Mother Nature will help you, and you get out there, and it's 3 or 4 in the morning, and nothing is more peaceful than being out there at 3 in the morning spraying water on a sheet of ice knowing that the best players in the world are going to be out there. It's absolutely fabulous."

No one wants to think about contingency steps in case weather ruins the best-laid plans of the NHL. But Renzulli's job is to do just that.

"There are a number of things that can postpone this game, too many to probably talk about right now. But the biggest thing is the safety of the players and our fans coming out here," Renzulli said. "We will look at the extended forecast. The idea would be not to bring people into the stadium if we think we can't play on [January] 1st, so we'd just postpone it to the 2nd, but we'll get Dan and myself and meet with the commissioner, [NHL senior executive VP of hockey operations] Colie Campbell and others and have that discussion with the GMs of both teams and we'll make that decision."

In a perfect world, the weather would cooperate and this year's edition of the Winter Classic would surpass even the previous two. And to top it all off, Craig hopes he can accomplish a second goal that's equal in importance to putting on a historic event.

"What I was saying is, we are coming in here from the National Hockey League and showing this grand stadium, this grand ballpark, the utmost respect, the same as I would expect somebody if they came into any of our NHL facilities to show respect to our game, and that's why we're working with the grounds crew here, the facility operations people here," he said. "We're working very closely to make sure that everything is taken care of, so when we leave, it's like we were never here, and that's how we like to leave it."

By spring, the Fenway field might not give any hint of what took place on it New Year's Day. But if all works according to plan, the 2010 Winter Classic will be immortal.

Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com and runs TheBruinsBlog.net.

Matt Kalman

Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. He has been on the Bruins beat since the lockout for numerous publications and has been covering the Boston sports scene for a decade.

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