Here's a field view of where the rink will be...

Here's a field view of where the rink will be as the National Hockey League prepares Citi Field for the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

For about three hours of hockey on New Year’s Day, it will take hundreds of man hours, some 20,000 gallons of water and a special refrigeration unit to transform a baseball field into a rink.

League officials don’t want the Rangers and Sabres skating on thin ice at Citi Field in the 10th NHL Winter Classic. So a two-week process to build an outdoor rink began Sunday.

“Anytime you’re working outside, we’re dealing with all sorts of different weather elements, whether it’s sun, rain,” Mike Craig, the NHL’s senior manager of facilities operations/hockey operations, said Monday. “We have a little bit of a mix of that in the forecast. Just trying to figure out how we’re going to run our equipment to accommodate all of that.”

The star of the show is a 53-foot, 300-ton capacity refrigeration unit that is situated beyond the left-centerfield wall. The unit can pump as many as 3,000 gallons of glycol coolant into aluminum trays under the rink. The glycol will chill the trays to keep the surface’s temperature near 22 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect ice temperature.

On Sunday the crew started laying out the rink, which includes raising it 15 inches above the field so the skating surface is level. After the boards are installed, workers will start the arduous process of spraying water in as fine a mist as possible. It will be done several hundred times so the ice can freeze evenly; 10,000 gallons are needed for every inch. While an NHL rink needs an ice thickness of 1 to 1.25 inches, an outdoor version requires up to 2 inches to overcome possible extreme weather conditions.

The surface will be whitened by 350 gallons of water-soluble paint, as lines and logos will be painted before another layer of ice is added, probably on Dec. 28. The teams then will get an opportunity to practice on the rink.

“The building of the ice takes a very long time,” Craig said. “It will take us a good week to eight days to get enough ice down there.”

It’s difficult to forecast weather almost two weeks in advance, but Craig said game-day temperatures were expected to be around 35 to 40 degrees. “We’ll have a couple of warmer days, but we’re definitely prepared for that,” he said.

Eye on the Ice, a high-tech system imbedded in the surface, will provide temperature updates if the weather gets too cold or hot.

“We’ll adjust a lot of different things with our refrigeration truck,” Craig said. “We keep a very close eye on our temperatures and how things are looking. We’ll just deal with that as it comes.”

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