All around Citi Field, it’s beginning to look a lot like hockey. The NHL has taken over the home of the Mets, turning a place most associate with summer memories into a full-on winter wonderland. Even the home run apple has been co-opted, with a big Winter Classic emblem slapped on the front of it.
Citi Field, usually dormant in December, was bustling Saturday afternoon, with workers hustling to make sure that everything is in tip-top shape for Monday afternoon’s outdoor game between the Rangers and Buffalo Sabres in the 10th annual Winter Classic.
The NHL had nothing but kind things to say about its host.
“This is a great ballpark,” said NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Kris King, perched on Citi Field’s upper deck. “I’d love to come see a ballgame here. The people here have been fantastic to work with. Standing here and looking down, there isn’t really a tough seat in this place where people aren’t going to have a chance to see a great game.
“A lot of the time with these [outdoor games], it’s just about being here and being part of the experience,” said King, who once played for the Rangers. “The game, of course, is very important. It’s worth two points for both clubs. But everything that goes into this makes it a great event. I think the fans are going to have a fabulous time.”
There are taxicabs in the outfield, giving the event a real New York feel, as well as a stage for the Goo Goo Dolls, a popular rock group that was hatched in the Buffalo area, to perform during the first intermission.
But the main attraction is the ice. That stretches across the infield, with the goals a little past first and third base.
A staff of 14 to 16 people has been working on the ice for approximately two weeks, King said. The two-inch ice surface was built with 20,000 gallons of water and 3,000 gallons of coolant.
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of time,” King said. “When we get a little bit of snow, the guys are moving the snow off so that the ice stays as good as it can be for our practices and our game.”
The NHL began game-testing the ice on Saturday, allowing select members of the media to skate on the surface. The teams will practice Sunday and will be encouraged to simulate game conditions.
“We actually want the teams to get out there and rip it up for us with a good, hard practice,” King said, “It’s all part of a plan to get the ice the way they need to. They’ll get some cracking, they’ll get some pressure cracks, and they’ll drill down and fill those holes. It’s all part of the master plan so we could have the best ice come puck drop at 1:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day.”
The forecast: mostly sunny with temperatures ranging from 12 to 20 degrees. King said he did not foresee problems.
“We’ve had close to 20 [outdoor games] now and we’ve been faced with everything Mother Nature can throw at us — rain, freezing rain, high winds, cold weather, lots of cold in Chicago one year,” he said. “Our guys are used to it. They know what they need to do.”