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Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Hello from Heinz Field! We're counting down to the Classic

By Scott Burnside

PITTSBURGH -- We must admit, we never get tired of walking into a Winter Classic venue for the first time.

The striking incongruity of seeing an NHL rink in the middle of, in this case, an NFL football field remains one of the endearing images of this signature event.

Without getting too warm and fuzzy, it is a testament to the possibilities of thinking outside the box.

It was no different Wednesday, walking into Heinz Field and watching NHL ice maven Dan Craig and his ice crew work like ants on the rink, spraying the pristine surface, preparing the ice for its first big test, Thursday's scheduled media skate.

Heinz Field
The NHL has been putting the finishing touches on the field-level rink at Heinz Field for Saturday's Winter Classic.

The Winter Classic logo is down, all the lines in place. Nearby, a second temporary rink is open for youth hockey and public skating.

Now, if it doesn't pour cats and dogs Saturday (check out the latest forecast and NHL contingency plans here), it should be a grand tilt between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here are some things to ruminate on as we begin the countdown to Winter Classic Part IV.

Brian Jennings, the head of marketing for the NHL, met with reporters Wednesday and said the game is doing major business. Inventory of Winter Classic gear, like toques, gloves and other souvenirs, is up 20 percent from a year ago in order to meet demand. More jerseys (48,000) have been produced for this Winter Classic than any other, and virtually all are expected to be sold. Last year, a total of about 30,000 jerseys were produced for the game at Fenway Park between Philadelphia and Boston.

Jennings acknowledged the Penguins' special Winter Classic jersey is outselling the Washington game jersey with the Sidney Crosby sweater leading all individual jersey sales.

Dick's Sporting Goods has set up a temporary 5,000-square-foot location to market Winter Classic items, the first time there's been a freestanding Winter Classic store.

None of this is particularly surprising given the buzz that surrounds the Winter Classic event, and specifically this year's game, what with HBO following the Capitals and Penguins around leading up to Saturday's game.

Here are some other Winter Classic numbers to kick around:

• Craig had budgeted 48 hours from the end of last Thursday's Steelers game to the first spray of the new ice surface, but he and his crew were spraying within 37 hours.

• NBC has sold out all commercial time for the Saturday broadcast.

• The world's largest mobile rink refrigeration unit, all 53 feet of it, is hard at work here in Pittsburgh getting ready for the game. The unit features a 300-ton refrigeration trailer and 3,000 gallons of coolant.

• It took 350 gallons of white paint to give Heinz Field that familiar hockey-rink white.

• An estimated 30,000 Washington fans will make the trip to Pittsburgh from the D.C. area for the game.

Now, did we mention we hope it doesn't pour cats and dogs Saturday?