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Winter Classic tour at Notre Dame Stadium is treat for children

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The process to turn the football field at Notre Dame Stadium into an ice rink for the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic is underway. On Wednesday, a group of 9- and 10-year-olds got to see how it all happens.

Students from Chicago’s Funston Elementary School took part in Ice Making 101, less than two weeks before the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are scheduled to play at the home of Fighting Irish football team on Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET; NBC, TVAS, SN). 

All of the students participated in the NHL/NHLPA Future Goals Hockey Scholar program, an online educational course that uses hockey to explore real-life applications of fundamental STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts.

The group began the hour-long tour in Notre Dame’s locker room before heading upstairs to see the view from the stadium press box.

“I know it’s something they’ll probably will never experience again,” Funston Elementary physical education teacher Naomi Dufford said. “They don’t get to go to sporting events very often, so it’s cool for them to see how things are done, and experience something that other people get to experience.”

Mike Craig, senior manager of facilities operations/hockey operations for the NHL, led the second part of the tour. Craig brought the students outside of the stadium to see the Ice Plant, the 53-foot, 300-ton capacity refrigeration unit that removes heat from the surface and stabilizes the temperature of the ice.

Craig also showed students some of the smaller details: the hoses that Craig and his crew will use to flood the rink about 200 times to create a perfect sheet of ice, a roll of blue fabric that will be frozen into the ice to create the blue line, hockey goal pegs and one of the nets that will be used in the game.

There wasn’t any ice on the field for the children to see Wednesday; Craig said the crew will begin making ice Thursday. But the kids nevertheless received a special treat. When concluding the tour at field level, Craig asked the children if they’d like to come back for a game. After getting a rousing positive reaction, Craig unveiled the big surprise: two tickets for each student to the 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic. The announcement was met with several gasps. 

“It’s great,” Craig said. “I have kids very similar ages and it’s fun to show them around a little bit. There were some good questions in there, and really [it’s] just to show them how everything works. There’s a lot of work that goes into this, and it’s just a great afternoon with them.”

Funston Elementary students received a unique behind-the-scenes look at how ice is created for the NHL’s outdoor games. On Jan. 1, they’ll get to see the finished product. 

“They’ll be talking about it forever,” Dufford said. “Every field trip I’ve been on with them, they think it’s the greatest thing in the world. They like to tell the kids back at school to make them jealous, so they love it.”

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