Workers prepare the rink at Wrigley Field for New Year's Day's NHL Winter Classic hockey game, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 in Chicago. The Chicago Blackhawks will host the Detroit Red Wings at the outdoor stadium on Thursday. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/M. Spencer Green
CHICAGO - Adam Burish was dressed in layers nearly two years ago, ready for any type of cold when he took the ice in a U.S. college hockey game at Green Bay's Lambeau Field. He learned quickly that no extra insulation was needed.
Instincts take over once you start skating, no matter the conditions.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are expecting the same reaction Thursday when they play outdoors at Wrigley Field in the second Winter Classic.
"You're so excited about the atmosphere and where you're at, the cold's not going to bother you," said Burish, formerly at the University of Wisconsin and now a forward with the Blackhawks.
In that game between the Badgers and Ohio State, the temperature was -2 C.
"I wore a T-shirt like I normally wore and some long pants, and that was it," Burish recalled. "They gave us a bunch of undergear like football players wear.
"I wore it for warmups and said the heck with it. You're so revved up, so excited, you're not going to be cold."
Chicago's winter has already been wacky, with about a half-dozen snowfalls, ice, wicked winds, wind chills way into double figures below freezing and then a major melting day when temperatures climbed to around 16 C.
The forecast for Thursday is for temperatures around -1 C and cloudy.
The challenge for Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operations manager in charge of putting down the rink and creating the ice, is to make sure the playing surface at the home of the Chicago Cubs is of NHL-calibre.
"What they're going to feel underneath their feet skating will be as close to what they have for an NHL facility and that's going to depend on the day outside," Craig said.
After last year's game in Orchard Park, N.Y., when there were some problems with rough patches of ice that caused some delays for repairs, the NHL had a portable rink and refrigeration unit custom made. It was shipped to Wrigley Field by trailer.
And in contrast to a year ago when the rink was hastily assembled at the Buffalo Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium in eight days, workers will have had more than two weeks to fine tune.
"We're hoping for (-3 C) weather and then our machines just sit there in cruise because the temperature we want on the surface is (-6 C)," Craig said.
Inclement weather is a test for both the players and the ice. And it was a factor in last year's game when it snowed during the game between the Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins.
"The snow that was on the ice, you could not honestly take a slap shot from one end to the other on the ice and get it all the way down there," said Blackhawks defenceman Brian Campbell, who played for the Sabres last year and scored his team's only goal in a 2-1 shootout loss.
The Blackhawks take a club-record nine-game winning streak into Tuesday night's game against the Red Wings in Detroit, sort of a warmup for the highly hyped game Thursday that is just the second regular-season NHL game played outdoors in the U.S.
The longtime rivals and Original Six franchises typically draw sellout crowds to Chicago's United Center when numerous Red Wings fans make the trip to cheer their team.
Tickets have long been sold out for the Winter Classic with a crowd of around 41,000 expected. According to RazorGator.com, tickets it had available early this week were going from between US$225 to $1,449. Last year's game drew a league-record 71,217 fans.
The NHL, Cubs and Blackhawks officials declined to reveal the financial breakdown for the game. The Cubs said they were getting a fee for the use of their facility. And Cubs chairman Crane Kenney said earlier if the field is in need of repair after the hockey game, there is a plan and money assigned in the budget to resurface it before the baseball season arrives this spring.
Sight lines could also be an issue, especially for lower seats. The penalty box will be just to the second base side of the pitcher's mound and the goals on the first-and third-base lines.
"Anytime you take a hockey rink outside an arena and put it into a stadium, you are not going to have optimal sight lines," said Don Renzulli, the NHL's vice-president of events and entertainment. Renzulli said the league considered a couple other configurations for the rink, but said the current one gives the best viewing to the most people.
Wrigley Field, with its familiar ivy that turns green in the summer and covers brick outfield walls, is no newcomer to events other than baseball, where the beloved Cubs are entering their second century without a World Series title.
The neighbourhood park on the north side of the city has hosted boxing and rodeo and was once home to the Chicago Bears before they left after the 1970 season. On a muddy day at Wrigley in 1965, Gale Sayers had one of the greatest individual performances in NFL history, scoring six touchdowns against the 49ers.
Another winter sport, skiing, actually beat hockey to Wrigley by 65 years.
According to the book "Wrigley Field, a Celebration of the Friendly Confines," the stadium hosted a ski competition in January 1944 with the ramp starting in the upper deck and jumpers landing around second base. It drew 6,387 spectators.
Jim Gallagher, who was the Cubs' general manager at the time, summed up that event with comments that could be applicable today.
"It was kind of silly," Gallagher was quoted as saying. "But it was a way to use the ballpark and take in a little bit of money."