The 2011 NHL Winter Classic is just a few short days away and the current wintery weather at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field may be about to give way to an unwelcome mid-winter’s thaw with the potential for Spring showers. With temperatures currently hovering around 23 and a wind chill of just 11 degrees, preparing to play a little hockey out of doors seems perfectly logical. However, Mother Nature is duking it out with the Hockey Gods as temperatures are projected to rise to a bone warming 44 degrees on Saturday with a 50% chance of rain. This would be less than ideal weather for the League’s marquis New Year’s Day event.
Dan Craig, NHL Facilities Operations Manager, indicates that the forescasted warmer weather is not likely going to impact the ice quality. The cooling technologies employed at the temporary outdoor rink are perfectly capable of keeping the ice frozen to support the game. “We could have ice at 65 [degrees] as long as it is an overcast day. Our truck runs really hard and we’ve been cruising,” Craig said. “It hasn’t even fluctuated with the water we’ve been putting on it now and we have an inch and a half on it right now. I’m pretty sure anything within the forecast right now it falls down, it’s going to freeze and we’re going to be in good shape”. Heavy rainfall, however, could create problems as it could flood the rink or create uneven ice, which could pose a safety risk to the players. “There are a lot of variables we have to balance to get where we want to be, and we are always keeping in mind players’ safety.” Visibility and flow of the game will be other key factors under consideration by the league as they go through the decision making process.
Don Renzulli, NHL’s Senior V.P. of Events, revealed that the NHL has such a large broadcast window on Saturday with NBC and CBC that the game could be delayed by up to seven hours before it would have to be postponed. “We will do everything humanly possible to play this game on Saturday,” he said. If the game is not able to be played on Saturday, it could be postponed until noon on Sunday, January 2nd. If rain were significant enough to postpone both a Saturday and Sunday event, the Winter Classic game would be played indoors at Consol Energy Center later in the season. “We could go until about 8 o’clock that night (Jan. 1) so we plan to stay here to get this game in,” Renzulli said. “If we have heavy downpours and we know about that the prior day we’ll have those discussions with the Commissioner and make the decision then if we’re going to make a change and then we’ll get that out to the public”.
Sidney Crosby stated the Penguins are prepared to deal with whatever Mother Nature has in store for them. “It’s something you’ve got to deal with,” Crosby said. “It’s something that’s a possibility, but it’s not unusual for a game like that. I don’t think you’re going to hear any complaints. We’ll just cross our fingers and hope all the conditions are well. I think whatever happens, whatever the forecast is, whatever the weather is, we’re just happy to be in that game.”
Patrick Young once said, “The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.”