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Setting The Scene In Chicago

12/31/2008 7:00 PM

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4:25 p.m. CT

Some updates from the Wings:

Dan Cleary expects some bad blood to be boiling over tomorrow when the Wings and Hawks take the ice, and that always makes for some interesting theater. 

It was Cleary who hit Patrick Kane into the half-wall just over seven minutes into the first period Tuesday night, causing Kane to get his skate caught in the ice. He got up and skated off the ice gingerly before hobbling into the locker room.

Even though Kane returned to start the second period, Hawks defenseman James Wisniewski said Chicago got rattled and was expending more energy trying to run Cleary than it should have. Cleary said he felt that way, too.

"I don't think anything is forgotten in the game of hockey, especially when you only get a day break," Cleary told "This is a huge home and home. Both teams realize the importance. I think we'll have good support here. It won't be the same advantage as it would be for them in the United Center, but they are definitely going to want to respond the way we beat them the other night."

Brett Lebda feels as though he's come home again. In a way, he has.

Lebda is from nearby Buffalo Grove, a suburb located about 20 minutes from Wrigley Field. A die-hard Cubs fan, Lebda said he's been to Wrigley countless times. Until Wednesday, though, he had never been to the visitor's clubhouse inside Wrigley. 

Lebda is looking forward to the singing of the National Anthem.

"Seeing 45,000 people doing what 20,000 do in the United Center will be pretty neat," Lebda said. 

Count Marian Hossa on the I-can't-believe-we're-doing-this list.

"It's just great to be out there in one of the old stadiums," Hossa told "Just look around. It would be amazing to have a chance to play here every night." 

Hossa was wearing a tinted visor Wednesday. He used to wear the tinted visor when he was younger and said it helped him Wednesday.

Cleary said he was not wearing a tinted visor, but he was planning to speak to Henrik Zetterberg, who was, about what it felt like and if it helped. 

There were mixed reactions on the state of the ice. Cleary said it wasn't as good as he thought it would be while Lebda said it was better than he anticipated. Hossa said, "overall it was not that bad," while Brad Stuart said, "it was overall good."

So, you get the picture. It was just OK, but that was to be expected today. Ice needs to be skated on to mature, and it should be better tomorrow. I'll have a further update on the state of the ice later after I speak with Dan Craig. I have an interview scheduled with him in a little while. 

You are probably going to read this in Mike Morreale's Wings Insider blog, but I figured I'd mention it here. Provided Nicklas Lidstrom is able to play tomorrow, and there's a good chance he will be, Mike Babcock said he plans to dress 11 forwards and 7 defenseman just so Chris Chelios and Lebda, the two locals, get to play.

Can we please stop with the "This game is about two points" nonsense. The Wings coach is telling us it's about more by playing seven D-men.

How awesome is that?

-- Dan Rosen

2:34 p.m. CT

Some updates from the Hawks:

Brent Seabrook said the sun reflecting off the ice was so blinding that he couldn't see. One of Brian Campbell's buddies who was standing on the opposite side of the boards was there to help out.

Seabrook said he saw the shades that Campbell's buddy was wearing and he pointed at them and said, "I need something like those." Campbell's buddy obliged and slipped the thick-rimmed dark shades through the photographer's hole in the glass.

"They didn't help very much," Seabrook said. "I couldn't realy see with the size of the frames of the sunglasses, but it was better than nothing."

His teammates were laughing hysterically when they saw him. You have to understand, these weren't just typical shades. They were, as Adam Burish put it, "your grandfather's sunglasses." He wasn't lying. They were thick and dark. The rims were ridiculously large.

"I was dying out there," Burish said. "I know he didn't go out there with them and I turned around doing a drill and he was staring at me with these big sunglasses on. It caught me off guard and I said, 'What are you doing?' He was like, 'I can't see a thing out here it's so bright. My eyes are killing me.' "

"That was funny," Patrick Sharp added. "No one really knew he was going to do that. I just saw him skating down the ice with his shades on. He looked like the Terminator I thought."

Sharp was one of the few Hawks who put a tinted visor on. He said it helped, but he hopes he doesn't have to wear one during the game.

"Hopefully it's not as sunny tomorrow as it was today," Sharp said. "That's the biggest factor. You kind of lose the puck, lose track of where guys are. You can't see the ice as well either. It should be fun, though. It should be neat."

Adam Burish was like a kid on a sugar rush while talking with the media surrounding his locker. He just got pulled off of injured reserve at 5 p.m. yesterday and wasn't yet sure if he was going to be playing tomorrow, but he was having a blast anyway.

Burish played in the Frozen Tundra Classic at Lambeau Field three years ago, but this event is obviously on a much grander scale.

"Everybody was flying out there, really zipping around with big smiles on their faces," Burish said. "Usually guys try to hide it, but there was no hiding anything. Everybody was excited. Even when we got here, guys were snooping around the locker room. It has been a pretty neat day."

Burish was actually the guy who came up with the area code idea on the eye-black. He said he didn't get a chance to do it when he played for the University of Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, but he always wanted to wear eye black. He tried the real stuff, but when he realized he couldn't write his Madison, Wisc. area code on it he switched to the tape.

Most of his teammates followed suit by writing their own area code on it. As I already wrote, Toews and Barker wrote Peg City for their hometown of Winnipeg and Sharp actually had T-Bay on his eye black for Thunder Bay, Ont.

"They don't help. I think they just look cool," Burish said of the eye-black tape. "We had a lot of guys doing it. Everybody had to represent where they are from."

Players can wear the eye-black during the game, but per NHL rules they are not allowed to write anything on it. That's why they all had their fun today.

-- Dan Rosen

1:10 p.m. CT

Stan Mikita can still tell a story.

I found that out Tuesday afternoon when I got an unexpected chance to talk to the Chicago legend, who still looks pretty spry at 68. He talked about the Winter classic and the Hawks young foundation today in Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews. That story should be on today and it is an interesting read.

But, it was some of Mikita's off-the-cuff observations and riffs that made our chat so memorable.

He had a lot to say about Bobby Hull, who teamed with Mikita to make the Hawks a dominant team in the early '60s

"Bobby had that that long blond hair that was always flowing in the wind when he skated," Mikita said. "He has the same thing now, although now he is chasing it."

He also said that he and Bobby remain close to this day, extending a friendship that began when they met as teenagers playing junior hockey in St. Catherines.

It's a friendship that has thrived, despite the pressures associated with being superstar professional athletes.

"I can remember only one time when Bobby and I had words," Mikita said.

And, it had nothing to do with hockey.

It seems the boys used an off day during a preseason trip to Vancouver for an exhibition game to go fishing. Mikita picks up the story from there.

"Bobby caught a 40-pound fish," Mikita said. "It was a beautiful fish. I told him I would get it with the net, but when I put the net out there, I put it straight out instead of going under the fish and I knocked the fish off the line.

"Bobby was so mad, saying, 'I never had a fish like that!' He was really upset with me and didn't speak to me for a month."

- Shawn P. Roarke

12:10 p.m. CT

Just got back inside from watching the Hawks practice. It's cold outside and I'm a giant moron. I got dressed this morning and put my sneakers on. My boots were right next to my sneakers, but without thinking I put my sneakers on and left my boots on the floor. Now my feet are freezing.

No one ever said I was brilliant.

Anyway, Jonathan Toews led the Hawks onto the ice. They were wearing their retro jerseys that they'll wear for tomorrow's game. They were also wearing Hawks' touques with the retro colors.

After stashing their sticks on the bench they also went to center ice for a team photo. After the photo they took off their game sweaters and put on their practice sweaters and started skating around for their practice.

Many players had black tape underneath their eyes and just about everyone who did had their hometown area code written on the eye-black tape. Toews and Cam Barker each wrote Peg under one eye and City under the other for Winnipeg City.

Brent Seabrook had both eye-black tape on as well as sunglasses. It was a pretty cool look.

I noticed Martin Havlat, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp were all wearing tinted visors. I saw Toews had a visor on too, but I couldn't tell if it was tinted or not.

I'm told the Hawks have close to 200 family members who want to skate after their practice. That should be quite a site.

As the Hawks were skating, the Wings coaching staff, led by Mike Babcock, came outside to watch a little of it. Darren McCarty and Kris Draper also stood by the glass.

More later...

- Dan Rosen

10:49 a.m. CT

Never in a million years did I think my first trip to Wrigley Field would be for a hockey game. Yet, here I am at a baseball cathedral, just hours away from witnessing the National Hockey League make history. And just like last year's event in Buffalo, this will be must-see TV.

I had a quick peek at the Blackhawks' dressing room. You can see the excitement in their eyes as they are minutes away from taking the Wrigley ice for the first time. After practice, I'll be speaking with players and coaches to get their thoughts on participating in tomorrow's historic event.

More later.

-- Brian Compton

10:38 a.m. CT

I just watched, every step of the way mind you, Mike Morreale measure the Red Wings walk from the dressing room to the ice. Before I tell you the number, I have to say how amusing it was to watch Mike do this, over and over again, until he got it right.

The number: 175 steps door to door.

That, my friends, is a heck of a walk. The Wings have to walk out their room and make a right. They then turn right and go down a long ramp before making a left then right. They go down two steps , turn left and then right before going up five steps into the dugout and another five to get out of the dugout.

From there they will make a left turn and walk toward home plate, where they make a hard right to walk up toward the pitcher's mound. They'll make a soft right and head for the door that will lead them onto the ice.

It's a good thing these guys can walk on skates.

-- Dan Rosen

10:18 a.m. CT

Just took a walk out of the media room, around the concourse level and to the Blackhawks locker room. I didn't go in there yet, but I walked down the dank corridor and into the dugout and up the steps and out onto the field.

I saw Brent Seabrook standing by the boards, snapping photos with his own camera. I saw Nikolai Khabibulin walk out looking around in amazement. Rocky Wirtz, the Blackhawks Chairman, was out there.

There's a lot of commotion going on here, but the Hawks have arrived and they will skate in roughly 40 minutes. We will be updating this blog regularly today, so stay tuned.

-- Dan Rosen

9:35 a.m. CT

We walked into Wrigley about 15 minutes ago, a group of five of us. It was me and Shawn Roarke leading Mike Morreale, Brian Compton and Larry Wigge into the House that Dan Craig Built.

Too much?


The boys were gazing in amazement as they saw the rink in all its glory with a fresh coat of snow on the grounds surrounding it. Having been here since Saturday (in Chicago since Friday), I have seen this masterpiece grow. Never, though, have I lost my romanticism with the ballpark and where I am. It is truly a privilege to be here.

I saw Brian, Mike and Larry experience that for the first time today. It really is quite a striking site, and I can't wait to see the finished product upon walking in here tomorrow.

As we sit in the press room now, they have the NHL Network on showing last year's Winter Classic. Oh, the memories. That game was awesome and it was one of my most memorable experiences I have had in my 25 or so years of attending sporting events (I'm 30).

This year's could be better. This year's should be better. I just don't want to jinx it, so I won't yet say this year's will be better.

The Hawks go on the ice today at 11 followed by the Wings. Mike will be doing all things Wings and Brian will be covering the Hawks. I plan to be floating between both and I'll also have the obligatory Dan Craig update.

There are jokes going around now that I'm Dan's official biographer. Hey, I say it's a complement.

Time to get crackin.

More later...

-- Dan Rosen

8:40 a.m. CT

Blackhawks Joel Quenneville looked like, well, a little kid as he viewed the rink here at Wrigley for the first time. He was wide-eyed and involuntarily spread his arms in wonder, just like thousands of others will be doing in the next two days. Both teams practice on the ice today, the Hawks at noon Eastern (catch it on NHL Network or the live stream on and the Red Wings at 2:30 Eastern. Both teams will have family skates--Chicago will bring about 200 family skaters while Detroit looks to be a more orderly 25 to 30 (including our own writer/blogger Bradley Holland).

The ice looks smooth and fast. Goals are in place. Snow blowers have been on all night to frost the parts of the baseball footprint not covered by the ice rink, and the last man-made flakes will fall in roughly the 10 o'clock hour. The game-info-replay video boards will also be mounted this morning.

Temperature and wind chill feel more like bonafide later December biting numbers. Overhead at a nearby coffee shop: "That game would have been different if Versteeg on that shot in the second period."

-- Bob Condor


4:43 p.m. CT

As a kid, I dreamed of skating on the Boston Garden ice.  Growing up in Acton, Massachusetts, I had the pleasure of watching the local high school (Acton-Boxboro), with such greats as Tom Barrasso, Allen Bourbeau, Bob Brooke, Bob Sweeney and Jeff Norton, often conclude their season at the schoolboy pinnacle, which was a trip to Boston Garden for the state championships.  Years later, I eventually got to play for a schoolboy champsionship.  Unfortunately, by then they'd moved the game to Walter Brown Arena on the campus of Boston University.  And although I've since gotten to play with a number of former NHLers in my beer league career, I'd yet to have the pleasure of skating in a professional arena.  That is, until today when I set foot onto the virgin sheet of ice at Wrigley Field in Chicago.  After escorting a group of Blackhawks alumni to the dressing area next to the rink (did I mention I got to meet Stan Mikita today?), I retrieved my skates and headed rinkside.  Stepping on the ice, I was surprised to feel the familiar crunch, almost as though it was a real pond.  But the more I skated, the more it felt like the familiar sheets of ice I've skated on across Massachusetts.  The best part, though, was looking around at Wrigley Field and realizing that I was getting to experience, firsthand, a neat piece of hockey history.  Glad I brought my camera.

-- Michael DiLorenzo

4:21 p.m. CT

I'm pretty sure that none of the players from the Red Wings and the Blackhawks will be wearing Micron brand skates when they take the ice for tomorrow's practice. I'm also pretty sure that they won't get winded lacing said skates.

Yet, even with those two crucial differences being acknowledged, I must say I felt a little like a NHLer when I took to the playing surface Tuesday afternoon for a skating session for the media covering the Winter Classic.

Yes, my Microns are old -- at least 15 years -- and beat up, and the titanium blades aren't as sharp as they should be, but they served their purpose as they cut through the pristine ice surface put down by Dan Craig and his crew.

The sun was shining, making it possible to hit the ice without my bulky pea coat slowing me down. As a result, I'm sure that I was moving at a crisp 10 mph as I circled the rink.

My efforts drew the attention of Kris King from the Hockey Operations Department, who gave me a few pointers on extending my stride for more power. But, as a goalie for most of my youth hockey career, I was just happy I could circle the ice in passable fashion. The fact that I didn't fall was a mere added bonus.

As one of my cohorts said as we stood on the blue line and looked out toward center field: "There are things in life that are cool and there are things in life that are cool and this is cool."

Tuesday afternoon's skate was cool, indeed. It was one of the greatest hockey experiences of my life, for sure. My only regret is that my son, who will enjoy birthday No. 4 on New Year's Eve, couldn't take part in it. He is just learning to skate on his double-runners and he would have loved these penalty boxes, which are the favorite part of his rink so far.

Now, I can add Wrigley Field to the list of NHL playing surfaces I have skated on; a list that includes Madison Square Garden, Continental Airlines Arena, the Philadelphia Spectrum, Boston Garden and Saint Pete Times Forum.

All that NHL ice surface time, however, has done nothing to move me closer to being a NHL player. But, a man can still dream and you can rest assured that my dreams tonight will involve me flying up and down the Wrigley Field ice with 35,000 fans or so cheering me on.

--Shawn P. Roarke

3:07 p.m. CT

After skating on his ice with his own crew this morning and then seeing how it reacted when 200 or so skates belonging to media members slashed through it this afternoon, NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig has advice for fans preparing to watch the Bridgeston NHL Winter Classic.

"You better put on your seat belt because you're going to be in for a show," Craig said.

If the weather cooperates as expected, Craig expects a super fast game between two highly skilled teams in the Blackhawks and Red Wings.

The ice was a bit brittle in parts, mostly in the corners closest to the outfield and along the boards by the benches. All that sits in the sun for most of the day, so Craig expected it to be that way. That's also why the blue line bled a bit.

However, Craig doesn't seem overly concerned at all. Part of the brittleness is because they had to use extra water to hose off the boards that got touches of white paint on it. They'll edge that away and the sheet will be good as new.

The crew will spend the next 20 hours or so flooding and re-surfacing and shaving, etc. The ice was good and solid today and the snow that build up was light and fluffy. Craig expects it to be better tomorrow, when it really matters.

Dan gave his ice crew the privlilege to be the first people to skate on the rink. He said it was "quite an honor to be with the crew in stepping on it for the first time. We all sat on the boards and did a 1-2-3 and everybody hit the ice at the same time."

NHL Senior V.P. of Events and Entertainment Don Renzulli also gave an update from the build-out perspective off the ice. Renzulli said everything is going well and they are still ahead of schedule by a day compared to last year's Winter Classic in Buffalo.

"I'm excited and I think the challenge is behind us now," Renzulli said. "The only things we'll have to deal with is Mother Nature."

Renzulli said the extended forecast calls for some snow tonight, "but we're prepared to supplement that. If you saw the two big fans out in the outfield we'll try to cover that ground and give you guys the field you saw last year in Buffalo." The field last year in Buffalo was covered in white snow, giving it a supreme winter effect.

Spectator Plaza, which is located on the corner of N. Clark Street and Waveland Avenue, will be ready to open at 11 a.m. They'll have a videoboard showing the NHL Networks' feed of the practices going on inside Wrigley Field.

-- Dan Rosen

12 p.m. CT

At around 10:30 this morning Dan Craig, members of his ice crew and a few NHL staffers became the first people skate inside Wrigley Field. The ice looked good and it will get broken in a little bit more in about an hour when their is a planned media skate.

Members of the media have filled my room here. Yes, I call it my room because I have been here the entire time and they are invading my space.

Nah, just kidding.

It's great to see all the media that is here and I can't wait for tomorrow to see how many more people show up. Some good friends are here now so it's great to catch up with some people and it's wonderful to see the interest that everyone has in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Of course, you can't hold a media event without providing food, so they brought in about 10 deep dish pies. Hey, we are in Chicago. Last year in Buffalo they provided Buffalo Wings in the press box. Anybody that knows me knows how I felt about that.

It was awesome.

As for the rest of the build-up, it's looking great out there. I can tell you all about everything they have, but I have already said enough in previous blog entries. I have to leave something to the imagination, right? So, just wait until you get here or see it on TV, beginning tomorrow at noon ET and 11 CT when the NHL Network televises the practice day.

More later...

- Dan Rosen

10:00 a.m. CT

I'm a little late checking in with my Wrigley Wrants, but with my colleague Dan Rosen doing such a good job, I figured there was no rush.

But, now, as I begin my first full day on the Ground, I figured it was a perfect time to add my voice to's Winter Classic tapestry.

I had to be to Wrigley Field for 7:30 a.m. this morning for a status meeting on the progress of all the departments that are involved in making this Winter Classic happen. Needless to say, I was not happy about the 6 a.m. wakeup call necessary to make my attendance a reality.

But, that all changed when I walked into Wrigley and found my way into the stands to check on the latest additions to the rink since leaving here yesterday at 6 p.m.

It was about 7:15 a.m. and the sun was just starting to rise over the center-field wall and paint the ice surface a golden hue. It was one of those special moments that you just stumble upon, a moment that demands your full attention.

And, that's exactly what I did. For several minutes I just stood in the stands and watched the sun make its slow climb, reflecting on how lucky I am to be involved in this great sport and to be allowed to document this event. Images of past events --including the Heritage Classic -- also filled my head. Not to sound too Zen-like, but it was a perfect moment.

To keep with the Chicago feel, I found myself hearing the voice of Elwood Blues in my head: "They're not going to catch us. We're on a mission from God!"

But, far too soon, reality intruded and I had to break my reverie and report for duty at the aforementioned meeting.

To say that Wrigley will be a beehive of activity today is an understatement. Even at 7:15 p.m. this morning, this grand old dame of baseball stadiums had already fully awoken from her usual winter hibernation.

There's a lot of hard work -- and an avalanche of details -- left before everything is ready for tomorrow's practice day and Thursday's game. But, finally, for many, the finish line appears to be in focus.

We'll have more later on today, especially after our reinforcements -- staff writers Mike Morreale and Brian Compton -- arrive this afternoon. Both were on morning flights out of the New York area.

--Shawn P. Roarke

8:40 a.m. CT

And, yet again, I say good morning to all the hockey fans out there. It's just past 8:30 here in Chicago and I am writing this to you from my hotel room with NHL On the Fly blaring in the background.

They added the NHL Network into our hotel yesterday, which undoubtedly made me pretty happy.

I took a walk this morning down to the Dunkin Donuts for a tea and veggie egg white flatbread sandwich. It's probably the healthiest thing I have eaten on this entire trip. Shhh, though, we can't tell my mother.

Oh wait, she's probably reading. Sorry mom.

It was cold, probably around 28 or so, and a bit overcast. I expect the sun to come out a little later, but we're still looking really good in the weather department.

In a moment I'll be packing away this computer to go meet Shawn Roarke at Wrigley. He was there at 7:30 this morning for the early staff meeting. We met up with a college friend of mine, Sean McNeil, who lives in Chicago, at Ginos East last night for some deep dish with crumbled sausage. It was pretty good, but I still prefer New York-style pizza. That's just me, though.

Sean always wanted me to refer to him as a 'Superfan,' so I'm doing it publicly now. He's 'Superfan' Sean McNeil and it seems as though he's getting into the Blackhawks, too. He's from Columbus, but the Blue Jackets weren't around when he was growing up. So, the Hawks are his adopted team and he said he's been to a few games already this season and plans to get to some more.

Another hockey fan. That's always good news.

I'll have an update when I get to Wrigley, but today is an exciting day for us because the entire crew will be in the Windy City by this afternoon. I'm hoping Shawn, Mike Morreale and Brian Compton dish on their personal experiences here on this blog as well. Trust me, folks, that should make for some entertaining reading. No pressure, boys.

More later...

- Dan Rosen


9:11 a.m. CT

Good morning hockey fans, it's your trusty blogger back again. I just arrived at Wrigley Field and there seems to be way more commotion going on here today than there was at any time yesterday.

Lots of movement from lots of workers. Trucks and golf carts and fork lifts, etc. I saw a golf cart filled with cases of Bud Light for the game on Jan. 1, as well as some food being pulled in.

With all the work being done around here, just walking into the stadium I got the feel that the big time event is really almost here. I have gotten that feel on a couple of occasions, but now that it's only three days away you really sense the magic that is happening around you.

I rode over here with three members of Dan Craig's ice crew: Travis Larson, Francois Martindale and Mike Craig. They told me that they left Wrigley at around 10 o'clock last night after painting white and sealing on top of it. The trio expected the rest of the crew that was already here before them to have put the markers down for the lines, circles, dots and logos by the time they arrived.

They were not disappointed. The ice looks like a glistening fresh sheet of white and the crew is out there right now working on the end lines. Once they finish painting all the markings onto the ice, they have to put a half-inch seal over top of it, but they do it with a fine mist and that takes plenty of patience. Remember, that half-inch is what the Wings and Hawks will be skating on, so it has to be perfect and very safe.

In fact, between 1 and 2 p.m. today the crew should be installing the logo, just as the media arrives. Perfect timing, huh? What a coincidence. It should be cool to see. I remember it was last year in Buffalo.

Things, though, appear to be going as smooth as possible. The weather is absolutely perfect as well. It's in the low 30s and sunny. The humidity is not high and there is no precipitation now or any predicted to come. The weather was the same yesterday and Hawks President John McDonough said the Cubs would take this kind of weather for opening day. I didn't even feel too much wind as I was just down on the field. It's just cold, but sunny and nice.

I had a great conversation with Mike Craig on the way over here. We talked hockey, which was nice. We talked about the World Juniors, specifically about Canada's 15-0 spanking of the Kazachs yesterday. He was asking me about my job and how much travel I do, and since Mike is from British Columbia, the conversation undoubtedly turned to the Canucks and to Mats Sundin.

He agrees with me that Sundin will undoubtedly help the Canucks, but Mike was amazed at how well Vancouver has been doing this season with Roberto Luongo on the shelf for a good portion. It was fun to talk pucks instead of ice making. It was a nice break.

Well, I'm going to head out into the commotion now. I'll be back on with you later. Updates galore coming today.

More later...

10:15 a.m. CT

I took a quick walk around Wrigley again and I snapped some photos of the ice crew working on the faceoff circles near the first-base goal. They bring out mats and outline around them to know where to paint.

It's hardly paint by numbers, but it is pretty much like a coloring book, just stay within the lines and you'll be fine.

I also just got off the phone with Wings GM Ken Holland. I figured we have been doing so much on the Blackhawks and the city of Chicago that we were leaving out one important aspect. Yeah, that would be Detroit and the Stanley Cup champs.

Holland is pumped. He can't wait for Tuesday's game against the Hawks at Joe Louis Arena and obviously for the big event Thursday here at Wrigley. He knows his team will be playing for two points on Thursday, but he refused to call the Winter Classic a game. It's an event, he said, and one that the Wings and their families plan to soak up and enjoy.

Holland gets it. That was so great to hear. I'll have more from him in a story that will be posted later on today.

Time to get back to work...

12:25 p.m. CT

As promised, though maybe a day or two late, I took a stroll around Wrigley today, from Waveland to Sheffield to Addison to Clark. The scene is amazing.

You want to talk about Winter Classic-central. Oh wow. Banners flying. Bars have signs in their windows. It's crazy. It's awesome.

However, what was really awesome for me is I finally got to see what it looks like from the rooftop bleachers.

I strolled over to Murphy's Bleachers on the corner of Waveland and Sheffield directly beyond the right-center field. I went in there to talk with James Murphy, one of the owners, about the concept of Wrigleyville hopping in the winter with a soldout event at Wrigley Field.

During our conversation, James mentioned that he was planning to head up to Murphy's rooftop bleachers to take a look at the rink. I nearly jumped out of my chair when I asked him, "Can I go up there, too?" Murphy obliged and the two of us took the walk up the five flights of steps (from what I remember) and we made our way outside.

It is quite a site, that's for sure. The patrons who paid to be up there for the game on Jan. 1 will have a great vantage point to watch the game. It's far, for sure, but they can see the entire ice surface.

I have always wondered what it is like up there and now I finally know. I snapped some pictures that will go up in a photo gallery later today.

From Murphy's I made my way down Sheffield Avenue toward Addison. I strolled up Addison with Wrigley on my right and I saw the big billboard ad with Patrick Kane. His mouthguard is hanging out of his right side of his mouth and there are flurries around him. It's one of NBC's Winter Classic ads and it's on the side of a building. You can easily see it as you drive up Addison toward Clark. Right next to it is another ad for the Winter Classic. This one is long and narrow with a picture of Wrigley's famous hand-operated scoreboard below the NHL Winter Classic logo and the workds Blackhawks vs. Red Wings, New Years Day, 12 p.m. CT and the NBC peacock logo.

I turned my head to the right and looked up and saw flags hanging from Wrigley. I did a double take when I saw they were NHL flags. Flags are flying from all 30 teams plus there are specially-made Winter Classic flags flying above the famous marquee.

Workers were in the process of putting up a giant Winter Classic banner that will flank the marquee. The left side was already up and it has a Red Wings logo on it and it says Winter. The right side will have a Blackhawks logo and say Classic.

I figured that out all by myself.

From there I made my way down Clark with Wrigley still on my right. I saw a man purchasing Winter Classic merchandise from a tent and then I turned down Waveland and head back inside to Wrigley, to the media room, where I am right now.

Time for some lunch. Be back later with an ice update from Dan Craig. Just so you know, the markings have all been painted. The logo will be going down shortly. It's looking good. ...

4:35 p.m. CT

Lots and lots has been going on here in the four hours since I last updated you. Where do I begin?

Well, I'll start with Dan Craig, who told me that the rink is looking good and he's still very confident, both in the build-up and the expected weather for the Chicagoland area through Thursday.

It may snow Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, but no more than two or three inches and that won't affect the ice at all. The Thursday forecast calls for temps around 30 and overcast skies.

Perfect, Craig said.

Don Renzulli, the NHL's Senior VP of Events and Entertainment, said everything going on around the rink is shaping up nicely as well. I already told you about the marquee and flags, but there is Winter Classic signage everywhere in this place. The crews have really done a magnificent job turning Wrigley Field into an NHL facility while keeping with the Cubs traditions.

For instance, you have to love the brick-faced banner going around the outside of the boards. I mean, that's just priceless stuff. Great idea by whomever came up with it.

The video board in right field is about to be raised the the left field video board will go up after. The audiosystems are being set up as well.

"I feel really good about where we are currently," Renzulli said. "We are way, way ahead of buffalo at this point, sot he next couple of days we should hit the final touches and we'll be ready for practice on Wednesday and the game on Thursday."

I myself have an interview with one of the managers over at Sluggers World Class Bar on N. Clark Street in about 30 minutes. I want to hear from them about what their plans are for the big day.

More members of your crew are here today as well. Bob Condor, our Editor-in-Chief, arrived this morning at Wrigley Field and Shawn Roarke, our Assistant Managing Editor, got in right around 2 o'clock this afternoon. Shawn and I will probably be seeking out some of Chicago's famous deep dish pizza tonight.

Two more of our crew, Brian Compton and Mike Morreale, will be arriving Tuesday.

Things are shaping up. All of them will be blogging as well. Hope you're enjoying all the coverage. Keep those e-mails coming to


8:23 a.m. CT

Good morning pucksters. I woke up today to what appears to be a sunny, brisk day in Chicago, perfrect for ice making. Although, it appears that today I'll have to wear the winter jacket I brought with me. I'm also sticking with the boots.

I just went down to get the newspaper and I picked the Chicago Sun-Times because it didn't have all the ads that the Chicago Tribune had. As an outsider, I don't need ads weighing down my newspaper.

The front page of the Sunday Sun-Times has a picture of a woman pushing water around and a giant headline that reads 'SWAMPED.' It mentions the 61-degree weather from yesterday, which caused floods in the area, knocked out power and spurred evacuations near the Des Plaines River.

While we feel for those people, the work will continue to press on at Wrigley Field and things couldn't be looking any better, at least when you talk about Mother Nature, right now.

I saw the forecast last night and everyday from now through Thursday is supposed to be in the low to mid-30s with some sun, some clouds, possible flurries on Wednesday and a high of 32 and mostly cloudy on Thursday, gameday. So, while it may not snow on New Years Day (we can still hope), it appears as though the weather will be perfect for a glorified game of shinny.

It's now time for me to pack away the computer, call my wife to say good morning and catch the next shuttle van down to Wrigley. I haven't eaten breakfast yet and I may even suck it up and go to the McDonald's right next to the ballpark. But, shhh, don't tell my mother.

I'll be back on later. Exciting day on tap. I should get getting a tour of Wrigley Field from someone very special. You'll find out who later.

9:54 a.m. CT

As I walked down Clark Street to the McDonalds right next to Wrigley, I saw all the Winter Classic signage hanging off the old ballpark. Inside the ballpark, as you walk through the lower concourse level you can see hanging banners depicting the replicas of the exclusive Winter Classic player trading cards Upper Deck made for the event. Even Sidney Crosby has a banner. Of course, the picture is from last year's Winter Classic. I should also note that the gift shop behind home plate is already stocked with Winter Classic material. Should be a hot place to go.

I forgot to mention earlier that last night after dinner I took a stroll down Michigan Avenue and I came across the Blackhawks Store. It looked great and definitely had some cool stuff in it, including a sweatshirt in the window that I just loved. My plan is to stop by there sometime tomorrow to see if there is any buzz. Who knows, maybe I'll even purchase something.

I didn't take a long look at the ice so I couldn't really tell you what was going on as of yet, but my intention is to head out there now to find out.

Not only do I need my winter jacket, but my scarf, hat and gloves are coming in handy today as well. It's cold and windy here, but I haven't been on the field yet so I can't tell you how windy it is out there just yet. I will soon.

My sausage McMuffin was delicious, by the way.

Heading out to see if I can catch up with Dan Craig now.

10:17 a.m. CT

I just caught up with Dan Craig and while we are going to have a more extensive sit down interview at around noon, he told me that they are going to get a Zamboni on the ice within the next half-hour to shave it down and smooth it out. Dan called it, "destressing the ice."

He said they actually want the ice to crack in spots during this run because "if it's going to crack at all, you want it to crack underneath your white." The plan is to start painting the ice white after lunch today.

The ice is skatable right now if the Red Wings and Blackhawks were hoping to play a game of pond hockey with 200x85 limits and boards. That's not what they want, obviously. The ice is looking good and pretty thick. It will go down slightly when they get the Zamboni out there to shave it down, but they'll build it back up after painting white today.

More updates coming later.

10:54 a.m. CT

OK, before I tell you anything about the Zamboni on the ice, I have to make it known publicly that I just stood on the pitcher's mound at Wrigley Field. That, everybody, is just freakin' wild. You have to understand that I'm a baseball nut, and this being one of the most famous baseball fields in the world, it was a pinch-me moment for sure.

Anyhow, back to why you're probably reading this blog: The Zamboni has officially made its first appearance on the ice at Wrigley Field. There are two of them, but the one that Don Moffatt, the NHL's Facilities Operations Supervisor, just drove was the Cisco Zamboni. You have all probably heard of the Honda Zamboni. That's the famous one that took a tumble upon its debut at Wrigley Field.

I haven't talked to Dan Craig, Don Moffatt or anyone on the crew yet, so I'm not sure how much they shaved down or if they were pleased with the result. It looked as though they were, but I'll get more information in a little over an hour.

The Zamboni took many turns around the rink and covered every area of the ice. There were a few photographers, including me, and a videographer detailing the history making event. It was pretty cool to see, that's for sure.

Even Dan Craig had a video camera out, but his was probably more for work than anything else. Dan's son, Mike, was snapping some photos of Moffatt on the Zamboni as he was taking some turns around the rink.

Since I'm not sure exactly how to upload photos onto this blog, I'm going to download them now onto my computer and send them to a producer, who can hopefully do that later on today.

More later...

1:10 p.m. CT

As you can see, some of my photos are up now. That's good news. Great job by our producer, Eric Goodman.

I spoke briefly with Don Moffatt, who was on the ice near the third-base end boards with a squee-gee, and he said the shave was perfect. There were visible cracks in the ice, which is exactly what the ice crew was hoping for, and Travis Larson was out there with a hose as I spoke with Don.

Everybody broke for lunch and I'll be talking with Dan Craig shortly. He's actually the only one of the ice crew that hasn't done lunch yet. He is doing an interview now and then he will sit with me to do a one-on-one.

I'll try to have an update up of that, but at 2 o'clock the special guest arrives. It is John McDonough, the President of the Blackhawks, and he will be giving an exclusive tour of Wrigley Field. I'm sure John is just going to wing it, which will make it even more special.

John worked in this magical ballpark for 24 years, so he knows it quite well. It should be very enlightening.

More later...

5:51 p.m. CT

Well, my day is wrapping up here at Wrigley Field, but what a day it has been.

First, let's start with the important stuff: Dan Craig assured me that his crew is right on schedule (actually a little ahead of schedule) in the rink build. Craig said they could have ice for an NHL game by tomorrow night, which would put him more than 12 hours ahead of schedule because his goal has always been to have the entire rink ready by noon on the 30th.

After meeting with Craig, I came back down to my computer in the media workroom. It was too cold today to sit up in the press box. I was happily greeted by Blackhawks President John McDonough, who arrived early for the walking tour of Wrigley.

McDonough was flipping through the pages of the Winter Classic program while the Bears-Texans game played in the background. A big-time Bears fan, McDonough was obviously interested in what his football team was doing.

McDonough and I sat for an interview for roughly 10 minutes and he expressed his amazement in the magic happening around him at Wrigley Field. He finds it to be "incomprehensible" that the Winter Classic is only four days away. So do I, by the way.

It's always a blast talking to McDonough. Nobody lights up a room like that guy. He is filled with such optimism and he's a romantic at heart, especially when it comes to Wrigley Field, which he was lucky enough to call his office for 24 years.

While McDonough and I spoke, Carrie Milbank of The Hockey Show came into the work room with a film crew. The walking tour was going to be filmed for an upcoming edition of the show. Jay Blunk, the Blackhawks Senior VP of Business Operations, also joined us along with Blackhawks media relations coordinator Adam Rogowin and NHL PR reps Schuyler Baehman and Jamey Horan.

The tour was special, that's for sure. McDonough took us outside the stadium onto Clark Street, right in front of the McDonalds parking lot, where he talked about the famous Wrigley Field marquee. We went back inside and while sitting behind home plate with Milbank, McDonough dished on rooftop seating, the bleachers and the scoreboard among other things.

From there, we walked onto the field and it was right then that I truly got the feel from McDonough that he was simply amazed to be here. He turned to Blunk and said, "Jay, are we really here, are we really at Wrigley Field. Is this really happening. This is a dream."

It was McDonough's first time at Wrigley since Craig's ice crew laid down the surface that the boys will use on Jan. 1. He was in a state of disbelief. He just couldn't believe the magnitude of the event he brought to Chicago and, more specifically, to Wrigley Field.

It really was wonderful to see the joy on his face. McDonough gets it. This isn't just a job to him. It's a passion.

I've got to download some photos now and get my butt out of here so I can enjoy a cold Chicago evening. Enjoy yours and read all the stories that will be going up soon. As always, feel free to e-mail me at I'm always open to suggestions and any topic of conversation.


10:20 a.m. CT

I am live from Wrigley Field right now. I'm sitting in the WGN-TV press box. I think the ghost of Harry Caray is sitting next to me. It's not spooky. It's awesome.

As I look out onto the field I can see Dan Craig's ice crew doing some maintenance work on the ice and various other people are clearing snow and ice as well as moving pieces of plywood around. Hey, people are busy, let's leave it at that.

We all woke up to a wet, cloudy and, uh oh, a warm day here in Chicago. The temperature is hovering around 50 degrees, but the rain, which was heavy this morning, has appeared to have subsided for now. Still, Chicago has been hit with a deluge of water from last night into this morning and there are flash flood warnings as a result.

The snow, which piled high earlier this week, is melting along with the added rain. I read in the Chicago Tribune this morning that they were putting sand bags along the Chicago River to halt any flooding. 

How does this affect ice making? Well, I intend to find out.

What I do know from talking to some of the members of the ice crew that rode with me in the van to Wrigley this morning is that they can not paint the ice if it is raining. I'm not engineer or scientist, but I could have figured that out. Wet paint and wet weather do not mix.

As for the ice, well it will stay frozen, that much we do know. The system they have installed now could work in the Sahara Desert, so let's not worry about that. The question is building up more ice on top of the 3/4 of an inch that is already in place. I'll be asking those questions to Dan Craig a little later on today.

For now, I am just going to take a moment to stare. I can't believe where I am right now. I'm sitting in Wrigley Field on Dec. 27 looking out onto a hockey rink. Let me repeat: I am sitting in Wrigley Field on Dec. 27 looking out onto a hockey rink.

Crazy. Who would have ever thunk it, huh?

This place has so much charm. As a baseball lover, I can't wait to take a look at every nook and cranny. I'm so jazzed up you have no idea.

So, I'm going to go do that now. The rain is still holding off, so now is as good a time as any. Although, I'd like to thank the concierge at the Intercontinental Hotel for offering me an umbrella to use during my stay. It has already paid off.

***As a quick note, I will be reverting the blog entries from the previous day in order to read in a timely manner. ***

4:30 p.m. CT

So, apparently the last blog I posted never updated to the site. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

Oh, so what. I won't write it again, but this gives me a chance to do something completely new and fresh.

Well, since the last time I posted (the one that actually got on the site), I have been all around Wrigley and have had my trusty umbrella with me. Thanks again to the concierge at the Intercontinental for that, by the way.

As I sit here and type this blog, from Harry Caray's booth, of course, I'm looking out onto an empty sheet of gray ice. Dan Craig's crew was unable to paint today due to the wet weather. It has been raining pretty steadily all day, save for some respites during the morning.

The ice is looking OK now after fears last night that it would have to be melted away and started over. You can read more about that in my story about today's weather that should be posted shortly.

The long and short of it, though, is that the crew did some maintenance work on the ice this morning and it is good to go. With the weather expected to get back to normal tomorrow Dan Craig said he hopes to get the Zamboni out there to shave it down so they could paint white, build over top of it to seal it in, and then paint the lines, etc. The whole process should take 10 hours, provided Mother Nature cooperates.

Today has been a really odd day in Chicago, complete with record high temps and nasty, wet weather. There has even been a tornado watch in some areas. Flash flood warnings, too. Strange indeed, especially for Dec. 27 in the Windy City.

However, the work presses on here.

As for me, I spent time this morning on the field, just outside the boards, talking with a cheerful Dan Craig. I don't remember Dan smiling once during the build-up last year in Buffalo, but he's happy this time around because he's got a great crew working for him, one he trusts, and he said they are still ahead of schedule despite today's shortcomings from Mother Nature.

I spent time talking some members of Craig's crew for a story that should be posted soon.

While on the field I made sure to look up and stare for a while, just to take it all in. I still can't believe I am in Wrigley Field for a hockey game. Heck, I can't believe I was standing on the pitchers mound at Wrigley Field. As a baseball nut, well, you get it.

I decided to work in the press box today instead of the working media room downstairs because it was too nice not to. I have the windows open, a fresh breeze coming through, and I'm staring out onto the field so I can see anything that goes on, which is nothing right now.

The working media room would have been fine, but I feel much better up here. I'll probably return to this spot tomorrow as well, but if Mother Nature does what she is supposed to do, which is bring temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s and some wind, I might have to close the window.

Either way, I'm going to pack it in for the day. Unless something crazy comes up, I'm gone until tomorrow. Enjoy reading the stuff from Wrigley today and watching the games tonight.

Til tomorrow...


5:47 p.m. CT

No one ever said travel was supposed to be easy.

My day began at 6:30 this morning in Mahwah, N.J. That's when the alarm clock woke me out of my slumber. It was, shall we say, not a welcome sound. Lucky for the alarm clock that it's on my wife's side of the bed — otherwise it would probably be in pieces on my bedroom floor.

Anyway, I digress.

I left for Newark Airport at 7:30 and things were looking up. I boarded my Continental flight bound for Chicago O'Hare right on time. Again, looking good. Then the announcement came: Delays going to Chicago. We'll pull out of this gate because they need to use it for another plane, but we're just going to sit on the runway for about an hour, and it could be longer.

If you know Newark Airport, you know what happened.

Yup, it was longer. Much longer. Try an hour longer than originally predicted.

Finally, at 11:50 a.m. Eastern time, we started motoring down the runway and took to the air. The flight was a little over two hours, but we landed in the foggy and wet Windy City at around 1 p.m. Central time. After taxiing around the entire airport (I think), we pulled into our gate. Thankfully my luggage greeted me on the baggage claim carousel (we all have our own stories, I know) and I got in the Airport Express van bound for downtown to my hotel.

But wait, first let's deal with some traffic. Oh the dreaded traffic.

It took another hour or so just to get downtown and finally into the hotel at slightly before 3 here in Chicago. Yup, left at 7:30 in New Jersey and finally got into my hotel at 3:10 p.m. in Chicago. For those math majors or stats wizards, that's eight hours and 40 minutes of travel time when you factor in the time difference. It wasn't like I was going to L.A.

Of course, in unpacking I realized I forgot to pack all of my sweaters. That's my fault, but it was the topper, that's for sure. Looks like I'll be putting some money into the Chicago retail business at some point this weekend.

Well, if you've made it this far in my first blog post from Chicago, I must say thank you and perhaps wonder a little bit about what you're doing. All you've heard me do is complain so far, but I'm done with that now.

No more complaining — because the entire journey here to the Windy City is going to be worth it. I'm embarking on something historic here and I want you to come along for the ride with me. Along the way you'll hear from some of my colleagues as well. Shawn Roarke will be here. Mike Morreale, Brian Compton and Bob Condor as well.

However, until Monday it's just you and me. I hope you can handle it.

As I type this blog now I am sitting in the press room at the United Center preparing for a very intriguing game tonight between the Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers. Both teams are hot — the Hawks have won seven straight and the Flyers are 8-1-2 in December. The Flyers are also beginning a six-game road trip, their longest of the season.

I hope to catch Duncan Keith before the game to get some of his memories of the Cold War game between Michigan State and Michigan back in 2001. I'm also hoping to run into Adam Burish so we can talk about the time he played for Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in 2006.

Speaking of which, I better head outside near the locker room to see if I can catch those guys. I'm here tonight and heading to Wrigley first thing tomorrow morning. Stay tuned to Wrigley Wrants, where you'll get all the Winter Classic information you need.

And, of course, no more complaining by me. I made it.

7:01 p.m. CT

It would be difficult to keep updating this blog in Eastern Standard Time, so the timeline I put above each entry is Central Standard Time. Or else, it would just screw me up. Believe me, it would.

So, the Hawks and Flyers are on the ice now for warmups and I'm up in the press box. I stopped both Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on their way into the Hawks' dressing room earlier this evening and had interviews with both of them for stories that should be on the site later tonight and packaged nicely by tomorrow morning.

As I was talking to Kane, a group of men's league players were coming off the ice. Still in full gear, they were walking past the dressing rooms, Flyers' first and then Hawks'. Midway through an answer, one of the men's league players stops and gives Kane a quick handshake. The 20-year-old superstar was very gracious with the guy who was clearly twice his age.

We went back to the interview, but quickly we stopped again as we both heard the guy go, "Holy (expletive), that was Patrick Kane." Kane had a great smile on his face. You can tell he loves that kind of stuff.

8:30 p.m. CT

Just a quick update to say this building is rocking tonight. There is talk that this is going to be the biggest crowd in the history of the Hawks at the United Center. I wouldn't be surprised. They are selling standing room only tickets and people are, well, finding standing room only. I see hundreds of people standing at the top of the 300 section.

The pregame had a Stanley Cup Final-game feel to it. With the incredible National anthem, performed by Jim Cornelison to a chorus of raucous cheering (it's a staple here), it made you feel like you were at Game 7.

It helped that the Hawks jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 2:35 into the game. Andrew Ladd potted the first goal at 1:13 by pouncing on a rebound in the slot after Martin Biron stopped Martin Havlat's point shot.