Wrigley begins transformation into rink
Historic ballpark readies for NHL's Winter Classic on New Year's Day
CHICAGO -- Not everything went smoothly Thursday as organizers went through the initial steps of transforming Wrigley Field into a hockey rink for the NHL's Winter Classic game on New Year's Day.
One of two Zambonis brought in for the game tumbled off a flatbed truck while being unloaded. Cubs manager Lou Piniella might call it "a Cubby occurrence," but baseball season ended two months ago.
"The machine stalled," said Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operations manager. "Then we tried to lift it up to start it up again and we found out that the brakes were frozen on. Everybody saw the little baby come flying off of there. It's OK."
And so is the driver, so crisis averted -- for a few hours. The next potential problem is a snowstorm that will blanket the city Thursday night. The crew hopes to begin laying down ice on Friday, but will likely have to spend at least part of the day on damage control.
"We want to make sure we have everything locked down," Craig said. "If we have to come back tomorrow and move a foot of snow, we'll move a foot of snow."
Craig's crew can handle a slight setback, because they are already two days ahead of schedule in prepping for the first hockey game in Wrigley's history. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings will face off at noon CT on New Year's Day on NBC. The NHL previously played outdoor games at football stadiums in Edmonton and Buffalo.
Some of the 400 workers laid the aluminum foundation for the ice rink Thursday. The beginnings of scaffolding along the outfield wall were also visible. Organizers plan to re-create the signature summertime Wrigley ivy for the game, though the setup will include advertisements.
"One of the reasons why we are here is the charm of the stadium," said Don Renzulli, the NHL's Senior Vice President of Events and Entertainment. "You look at the bricks and the ivy and the marquee, we want to make sure that's still here for our game."
An NHL spokesman said the project will use 52,000 feet of plywood, 32,000 feet of decking and 20,000 gallons of water for the ice and that it has received 240,000 ticket requests to fill the ballpark that generally fits a little over 40,000.
The rink layout has been tinkered. First, it ran across the shallow outfield. Then, it was thought that turning it 180 degrees and placing it from home plate to second base would offer the best views. Those were scrapped for the final chosen design. The rink now runs across the infield, from first base to third base, with a smaller auxiliary rink behind that.
Under the configuration, the views from the first dozen rows or so around the infield may be hindered by the boards surrounding the rink. In general, the higher the seat, the better the view in the infield box.
"Any time you take a hockey rink outside an arena and put it into a stadium, you're not going to have optimal sight lines," Renzulli said. "I think once we get some of that stuff up, you're going to see that the sight lines aren't that bad. They're actually pretty good. It's difficult, but we looked at a lot of different configurations. We thought this was the best and gave the most people the best viewing experience."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.