Winter Classic: Warm weather, rain could delay game
The 2011 Winter Classic might be the first National Hockey League game ever to experience a rain delay.
If heavy rain makes playing conditions on the rink installed at Heinz Field unacceptable for the scheduled 1 p.m. start Saturday, the game between the Penguins and Washington Capitals could be pushed back to as late as 8 p.m. that day, league officials said Tuesday.
Don Renzulli, the NHL's executive vice president of events, added that if the game could not be played Saturday, it would be delayed until noon Sunday. If that was a no-go as well, the game would be rescheduled for Consol Energy Center at a later date.
Rain, if it is severe enough, could create unsafe conditions because it would freeze unevenly on the playing surface. But while the possibility of rain Saturday has been discussed a lot over the past few days, Mr. Renzulli said he is not obsessed with it.
"It's something I don't dwell on, after four years" of staging outdoor games, he said. "We've gone through this every year, whether it be [the threat of] rain, snow or whatever Mother Nature throws at us.
"We're going to continue to build, we're going to continue to do the things we know how to make this game possible."
He added that, "we're going to do everything humanly possible to play this game, come Saturday."
Don Craig, the league's facilities operations manager, is overseeing the construction of the rink, and said it is well ahead of schedule.
The process began immediately after the Thursday night Steelers game, and Mr. Craig said his original timetable called for the first layer of water to build the playing surface to be sprayed within 48 hours.
Instead, it was done after 37.
"The staff in Pittsburgh absolutely blew me out of the water," Mr. Craig said.
The task of building an even ice surface, which was 1 1/2 inches thick Monday afternoon, has been made more challenging by the notorious, swirling winds at Heinz Field.
"It's played havoc with us the last couple of days," Mr. Craig said. "We'd like [the water] to land and kind of freeze where we point it, not 40 feet away.
"We're trying to make the ice surface as dense as we possibly can. That's why we use fine sprays. But when the wind is pushing it everywhere, we have to expand our flow of the water a little bit."
However, it's the water that could hit the rink through natural means, not a hose, that could cause league officials to lose some sleep over the next few days.
Most forecasts are calling for a high temperature of 50, with a chance of rain, for Saturday. The air temperature is a non-issue, and at least for now, league officials don't believe the rain that's being predicted would cause a serious problem.
"Anything that's within the forecast right now, it falls down and it's going to freeze and we're going to be in good shape," Mr. Craig said.
The specter of rain is a new wrinkle for the Winter Classic, which was contested under fairly favorable conditions in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston during the past three years.
Since the initial Winter Classic between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium Jan. 1, 2008, the game has developed into one of the NHL's signature events, with a variety of ancillary activities.
"In four short years, this game has come from an outdoor hockey game to something more than we all anticipated," Mr. Renzulli said.
"We're starting to make this game much bigger than anyone anticipated when we started in Buffalo."
First Published December 28, 2010 12:00 am