December 10, 2023

In 2003, Edmonton made history by hosting the first outdoor NHL game. Two decades later, the Heritage Classic is coming back.

With less than two weeks left until puck drop, crews are hard at work preparing Commonwealth Stadium for the special event.

Mike Craig, the NHL’s senior manager of facility operations, is part of the team in charge of the ice and also helped in 2003. He says it’s a much more streamlined process than it was for the first Heritage Classic, but it’s still a lot of work.

“Yeah, there were a lot of things we were figuring out on the fly that first time,” said Craig.

Dozens of staff are currently putting down a base layer of mats. They’ll then put up ice pans, the bottom of the ice sheet. When that’s done, 18 ice crew members will then begin on the ice surface.

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From start to finish, it’s a process that takes about ten days.

“The initial time we were here, everything was run as if it was going to be a permanent rink,” said Craig, “So now everything is mobile.”

On top of crew members, a major piece of equipment arrived in Edmonton on Tuesday. A mobile refrigeration unit, one of two owned by the NHL, rolled up in a 53-foot-long semi-trailer.

Worth around $1 million, its maze of pipes can pump 3,000 gallons of glycol coolant under the rink to keep the ice at the perfect temperature.

“We’ll put some sensors in the ice, and we can monitor our ice temperatures there,” explained Derek King, the NHL’s senior director of facility operations and hockey operations. “So we know exactly the temperatures coming up to the truck, how long it gets to the floor and then we’ll talk to the guys running the truck back, so we can really dial in what we want for game time.”

Despite the tech, weather is always a challenge – but the crew is prepared for that, too. If temperatures are too warm, the team will protect the sheet with insulated tarps.

“We can put it down so if it is sunny during the day, we’ll cover the sheet, and we know we will do all our ice-making at night,” said King.

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If the weather is too cold, the team uses an inline heater to warm the glycol and, again, uses the tarps to keep the cold out.

It’s days of hard work the teams know will eventually create an unforgettable hockey game, just like in 2003.

“It was obviously a very special one, and we’ve been able to continue and grow the game and the event as well,” added Craig.

The Heritage Classic takes place on Oct. 29 when the Edmonton Oilers will take on the Calgary Flames.

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