The transition of iconic Notre Dame Stadium into a hockey venue for the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic has begun.
The NHL Ice Plant arrived in South Bend, Indiana, on Monday, almost two weeks before the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are scheduled to play outdoors at the home of the Fighting Irish football team Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET; NBC, TVAS, SN).
“We’re getting organized today, getting stuff rolling outside our underlay flooring going down on the stadium,” said Mike Craig, senior manager of facilities operations/hockey operations for the NHL. “We’re hooking up all of the piping, getting that ready. And we’re starting stage decking, which the rink will be built on, and that will be completed [Tuesday]. And we’re offloading some of our equipment and really prepping the site for our rink build.”
The Ice Plant, which made a stop at United Center, the Blackhawks’ home arena, contains a 53-foot, 300-ton capacity refrigeration unit that removes heat from the surface and stabilizes the temperature of the ice.
Much of the work over the next 2-3 days involves creating the base of the rink: running piping down to the arena floor and putting down ice pans through which refrigerant flows. Craig said the crew will begin making ice Thursday.
“It usually takes us seven or eight days of ice building, so we do it in fine, small layers that makes the best sheet,” Craig said. “You only get about a quarter of an inch of ice a day, maybe a little more. It definitely takes some time to do it properly.”
The ice is scheduled to be painted white Dec. 27, with lines, logos and a little more ice to be added the next day. Craig said the ice should be about two inches thick when completed.
The Blackhawks and Bruins are scheduled to practice at Notre Dame Stadium on New Year’s Eve.
It was sunny and around 40 degrees in South Bend on Monday, and the 10-day forecast has it staying the way, but Craig and his crew are always ready for anything while they prepare for the NHL’s 12th Winter Classic and 26th regular-season outdoor game.
“We’ve seen a lot of types of weather and learned different ways of dealing with it: snow, rain, extreme cold, sun and warmer days,” Craig said. “So we’ve learned a few things along the way. We have a very experienced crew now that’s seen a lot of different things and they have their input. It’s definitely a team effort.”
Though there’s a lot of work to be done before New Year’s Eve, Craig said he tries to take in what he and his crew have been able to create at some of the most iconic sites in sports.
“We definitely try to take a step back once in a while and appreciate what we’re doing,” Craig said. “We are quite involved and get focused on what we’re doing, but it’s nice to take a step back and appreciate what’s going on.”