NHL begins process of building rink for Heritage Classic between Oilers, Flames

Photo credit:Zach Laing/Oilersnation
Zach Laing
8 months ago
For Mike Craig, 20 years of working for the NHL building outdoor rinks has come full circle.
His father, Dan, built ice in Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum in the 1980s, and when the Edmonton Oilers held the NHL’s first outdoor game two decades ago, Mike was right there alongside him.
“Number one, I can’t believe it was 20 years ago,” said Mike Craig, who works for the league as its senior director of hockey operations and facilities operations. “A lot of memories coming back here. It was a great event at that time. We really thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, really.
“Obviously, we’ve kind of continued from there and it’s been special all the way along. To be involved in the first one, do a number of events all the way through, and then come back, it’s really special.”

The NHL’s refrigeration truck, tasked with making the ice for the 2023 Heritage Classic, is pictured. Zach Laing/Oilersnation

On Tuesday, Craig and his colleague, Derek King, oversaw the NHL’s state-of-the-art refrigeration trucks rolling into Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, where the process of building a rink will take place over the next few weeks.
While workers on the field had begun laying down the groundwork for the rink, Craig said getting the ice in place would take about ten days.
Building a rink like this is never an easy task, but with their trucks that have cost the league $1-million a pop, it has been streamlined over the years. So much so that Craig, King and their crews are ready to work on the fly.
“The sun is going to be one of our main challenges, or if we were to get a warm rain,” King said. “The sun we’ve been able to handle. We have insulated tarps we put down so that if it is sunny during the day, we’ll cover the sheet and then we will do all of our ice-making at night.
“We also have the ability to change the flow of the glycol in the floor, so if we’re following the sun across the stadium, we can actually change the direction of the flow of the glycol across the ice. We’ve kind of taken all the things we’ve learned throughout the years, and we’re using that to our benefit.”
The crew plans to have ice pans down by the 21st and then start making the ice soon after that. The 10-day process will see players get to practice on the ice ahead of the game, and from there, consultations will occur between the league and the teams.
“We know this is an important game for the players. We’re early in the season and two points are on the line,” King said. “We want to give them the best possible sheet as we can, so we’ll talk to them on practice day and we’ll get feedback.
“We can’t control the weather, we’ll just worry about what we can control off the truck and on the sheet. Practice day for the players is important, but it’s also practice day for us, so we get to work with our crew, give everyone their assignments, know what’s going on during the day if we have any issues come up, and then we’ll kind of dial in the truck, work with our mechanic on the truck. We’ll talk to him through the game, and if we need to make changes, we can do that throughout the game.”

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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