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Forklifts hurriedly drove past each other in the ground-level concourse. Crates labeled "Ice Edger," "Show Shovels" and "Dasher Board Spacer" were among the dozens of boxes that recently arrived and awaited unpacking.
Heinz Field typically lies dormant in mid-February. Not this year -- not with the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers scheduled to play there Feb. 25.
The preparation for the Stadium Series game between the bitter rivals started in earnest Monday.
"A lot of planning goes into this," Penguins chief operating officer Travis Williams said, "but it becomes real on a day like today when the ice trucks move in and you start to see things like the deck being put down."
Williams watched from the lower seating bowl in the northeast corner of Heinz Field on a sunny-but-windy-and-chilly Monday afternoon as the outline of a hockey rink was formed by white plastic tiles encircling a patch of grass measuring 200 feet by 85 feet.
Ringling Bros. announced last month its world-famous circus will cease operations in May, but when the NHL arrives to stage one of its popular outdoor games, the traveling contingent seemingly rivals that of "The Greatest Show on Earth" in scope.
What the league calls the "Ice Plant" -- a 53-foot trailer it bills as "the world's largest mobile refrigeration unit" -- arrived Sunday from Toronto, just beating any complications from the winter storm that pounded the East Coast over the past 48 hours.
The "Ice Plant" carries ice-making and ice-monitoring equipment used to create an NHL-caliber surface. By early Monday afternoon, pipes were fitted to run from the truck outside the north end of the stadium leading onto the field where the rink soon will be built.
NHL vice president of facilities operations Dan Craig is the man in charge of the ice conditions for the league's outdoor games. This is the league's fourth and final outdoor game this season, and Craig has been the point man for the 21 outdoor regular-season games the league has staged since 2008.
"I don't fear anymore," Craig said, in reference to the wind/snow storm hitting the Northeast this week. "I just don't sleep, that's all.
"You've just got to be ready for (anything). We've had events where we have had a blizzard every second day. The guys, they muscled through it. Snow comes, we remove it. We work today, snow comes again, we remove it again. We've done it in (rain). We've done them all, so we're ready."
Maintaining a quality sheet of ice is the most complicated process associated with playing an NHL game outdoors, but the rest of Heinz Field already looks the part. Large banners hung outside advertised the event (Williams said about 60,000 of the projected 67,000 seats have been sold). Inside, a sign marking the Penguins dressing room hung below the permanent "Steelers locker room" sign. Across the hall, a Flyers logo placard hung above a "Visiting NFL Lockers" sign.
The 2011 Winter Classic was also held at Heinz Field, making it the first venue to host outdoor games in two seasons.
"To showcase the city and the sport of hockey and how much it has grown here, for us that never becomes (old)," Williams said.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org )or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
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