Winter Classic brings back some ol' Windy City memories

December, 30, 2008
CHICAGO -- First things first: It is very cool to see a hockey rink set up inside Wrigley Field. For hockey fans, I think it's a rink of dreams type thing. Maybe King Clancy will skate through the center-field ivy to take a quick twirl.

I haven't been to Wrigley in a while. Like the rest of us, the place isn't getting any younger. Still, it has a special charm. My memories of previous visits on Chicago's North Side are a bit hazy. If I remember correctly, I was unfortunately overserved on three earlier visits. It's criminal, I say, just criminal.

On Tuesday afternoon, the weather was unseasonable. In other words, it wasn't frigid, windy, snowy and/or downright ugly. Actually, it was pretty nice. I'd guess the temperature was around 35 degrees. The sun was out. And that may present a problem, if we have another sunny day Thursday. The goalie on the left-field side might want to slide a pair of shades under his mask. There's a lot of glare in that end. I can just hear it now: "I lost the puck in the sun!"

The league was good enough to allow us media slugs to take a little spin around the ice (thank you, NHL!), and that's how I noticed the potential issue. It would be pretty screwy if the biggest problem for an outdoor game on Jan. 1 in Chicago turns out to be too much sun. Right now, the forecast calls for more of an overcast day. The Windy City weather does have a tendency to be pretty shifty.

As for the ice itself, I thought it was pretty good. There were some rough spots. One of the corners on the first-base side of the rink (I can't believe I just wrote that) is chopped up. And the area in front of the benches was a bit sluggish due to the sunshine. According to NHL ice guru Dan Craig -- recently featured wearing a lovely Perry Ellis shirt and Haggar slacks in our own ESPN The Magazine -- the sun reflecting off the boards in that area caused the problem. So much so that a portion of the blue line was bleeding through. In fact, I now have some pretty blue paint on my skates. Now, that's a real souvenir of the trip, eh?

Craig likes the chances for a good surface Thursday. He figures that if things go as planned, we could have some hard, fast ice for the Wings and Hawks. For you ice freaks in the crowd, Craig says the ice is about two inches thick and there will be no more than another eighth of an inch added between Tuesday and game time. How's that for some precise ice measuring?

After our media skate, my Magazine colleague Lindsay Berra and I took a stroll around Wrigley. I was surprised to find many good sight lines from the seats. I think fans sitting in the upper deck will be pleasantly surprised with the view. It might be a case of low expectations, but I think that might be one of the better places to watch the game from.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.



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