Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - In his classic Velvet Underground song Who Loves The Sun, the late, great Lou Reed told us all the reasons why not everyone cares for that glowing orb in the sky. Im not sure if Dan Craig has ever heard that song, but he could relate with the sentiment. Craig may have the most important job when it comes time for the leagues annual Winter Classic. As the NHLs senior director of facilities operations, it is Craigs job to make sure the ice holds up outside among the elements and one of his biggest enemies in this fight is plain old sunshine. This year, of course, the New Years Day tradition is being held at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The air temperature for the outdoor battle between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals shouldnt be a problem for Craig and his team, as the thermometer isnt expected to climb above the mid-40s. The problem instead could be too much sun as forecasts are calling for little cloud cover Thursday afternoon when the Blackhawks and Caps are scheduled to do battle in the nations capital. Sunny days can cause the ice surface to melt ahead of the contest, something Craig and his crew will be diligent of as we creep closer to game time. However, the sunshine also could present an issue during the contest, as players may have to battle the glare reflecting off the surface. It was the latter problem which caused one of the NHLs many outdoor games last season -- a late January clash between the Devils and Rangers at Yankee Stadium -- to be delayed for over an hour. We could see a similar delay on Thursday but only because Craig puts a great deal of pressure on himself to ensure the players get to partake in something that looks and feels a lot like a normal NHL game. Its a game, and thats one of the things I never lose sight of, and within hockey operations, within our world, we never lose sight of it, Craig recently told NHL.com. This is a regular-season game and I want the guys to be able to play this as any regular-season game. As the novelty of the Winter Classic and other outdoor games continue to wear off, one of the most interesting aspects of this NHL phenomenon is the amount of preparation that goes into making these events work. Thanks to Craig and his handpicked ice crew, the league has a group of guys who are completely dedicated to getting the most out of every possible scenario Mother Nature throws their way. When there was heavy rain falling in D.C. on Christmas Eve, Craig and a few members of his team stayed in the area to monitor the situation. As the day of the event draws nearer, the crew is ready to spring into action at a moments notice to combat whatever issues happen to arise. I have guys on this crew now that have been here for six or seven years, and theyre very much aware that they can get a text message at 6 oclock in the morning that says, Get on the bus and get over here, Craig said. The key word for what Craig does is vigilance. Pulling off an outdoor hockey game is a battle right up until the moment the puck drops. Come Wednesday or Thursday, new obstacles could turn up and wreak havoc on Craigs plans because every day has the possibility to present an unexpected challenge. We wake up in the morning and whatever Mother Nature throws at us, thats what were prepared to deal with, Craig said. You dont know if you have things left to do. The checklist is prepared for tomorrow as a lead up to practice day, but you only have a couple rehearsals because come Thursday there is no more rehearsing. So, when youre watching the Winter Classic and youre wondering why the ice looks sloppy or why theres so many delays, just remember that isnt for a lack of trying on the NHLs part. In Craig, the league has found someone who is as dedicated to making the outdoor game feasible as you could imagine anyone being. And his team deserves a large share of the credit for what has become a special and surprisingly successful tradition for the NHL in the 21st century. For the sake of all the people who work so hard to make the Winter Classic work, lets hope the clouds cover up that pesky sun come New Years Day. Tony Gonzalez Jersey
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