Winter Classic Notebook: Grading the Ice

By Jim Iovino
|  Thursday, Dec 30, 2010  |  Updated 6:45 PM EDT
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Winter Classic Week in Pictures

Jim Iovino

The Winter Classic logo at center ice.

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A little rough in spots and soft in the middle.

We're not talking about Pittsburgh sports reporters.  That's the verdict on the Winter Classic ice surface after your humble reporter spent 45 minutes skating at Heinz Field Thursday afternoon.

The ice was in surprisingly good condition when media members stepped onto the rink for the first time, considering that the morning was filled with light rain.

It wasn't the fastest ice surface known to man, but it was playable. But as the skating session went on, the ice slowed down considerably. And yes, it was the ice that became slow, not the out-of-shape reporters who seemed winded in the first 30 seconds of skating.

Tip for the Caps and Pens for Saturday: Score early if you want to have a chance at winning the Classic. The longer the periods go, the worse the ice will get. You may need a shovel to clear a path for a cross-ice pass by the last minute of the first period.

Of course, that all depends on if there is hockey to be played on Saturday. The forecast still calls for rain throughout the afternoon. If it does rain harder than the light drizzle that came down on Thursday morning, it would be hard to imagine them actually getting the game started at 1 p.m.

Why is rain such a concern? If you've ever tried to stickhandle a puck through a puddle of water on the ice, you know what happens. It's like trying to stickhandle through peanut butter. That puck stops dead, and it's just not going to move.

Assuming that the league office knows about this predicament when water hits the ice, you may think the NHL would try to postpone the start time until later in the day -- or even until Sunday.

But NHL COO John Collins said that, as of now, the league is still preparing as if the game will start at 1 p.m. (actual drop of the puck is more like 1:28 p.m.).

"Like the World Series, weather gets involved in it," Collins said. "We're planning to play at 1 p.m. We've got maximum flexibility to get that game in on Saturday."

Despite about 30 different ways reporters tried to reword the question about rain contingency plans, Collins wouldn't stray from his remarks.

"We fully expect to get the game in on Saturday," Collins reiterated, and then added a chilling quote: "This could take a little while. The elements are part of the story of the game."

So it could be a long day for the players, the fans and the media. Collins wouldn't elaborate on if, when or how fans would be notified should the game be postponed or delayed.

So for those of you heading to Pittsburgh from the D.C. area, well, it doesn't look like there will be any early word on a new start time. So just pack up the car and make sure you're at Heinz Field before the 1 p.m. start.

And if you know any of those Chinese scientists who used their wizardry to change the weather patterns for the Beijing Olympics, please tell them to make the rain stay away from Pittsburgh on Saturday. Those going to the game certainly would appreciate it.

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