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updated: 3/1/2014 5:46 PM

Stage is set for cold, snowy Hawks-Penguins game

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  • Steve Lundy/slundy@dailyherald.comHawks tailgaters pose for a picture prior to the Blackhawks vs Penguins NHL Stadium Series Saturday at Soldier Field.

      Steve Lundy/slundy@dailyherald.comHawks tailgaters pose for a picture prior to the Blackhawks vs Penguins NHL Stadium Series Saturday at Soldier Field.

  • With the downtown skyscrapers as a backdrop, Soldier Field has been transformed into anoutdoor ice palace for today's Stadium Series game between the Hawks and Penguins.

      With the downtown skyscrapers as a backdrop, Soldier Field has been transformed into anoutdoor ice palace for today's Stadium Series game between the Hawks and Penguins.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Soldier Field transformed

 
 

The weather forecast for Saturday night calls for temperatures of 15 degrees with a 60 percent chance of snow -- at least three inches is expected.

The cold is fine. It's the chance of snow that has the NHL worried ahead of the Coors Light Stadium Series game at Soldier Field between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

At the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Jan. 1, there was so much snow that it had to be constantly shoveled from the ice -- causing the flow of the game between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs to be disrupted.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday if conditions got too bad that Saturday's game would be postponed, although he didn't elaborate when it might be played.

"It would have to make it unsafe, either too cold in terms of medical concerns or if it was such that the ice wasn't able to be kept appropriately so that it would be safe for the players," Bettman said.

"We have all sorts of Plan B's. I would prefer to not to dwell on them. We played on New Year's Day before over 100,000 people at the Big House, and I think it was in the single digits and it snowed, and it was great. As long as we can keep the conditions competitive and safe, it'll be a lot of fun."

This will be the second game outdoors for the Hawks and third for the Penguins. Both teams practiced at Soldier Field on Friday night and both teams were pleased with the ice conditions, although the Penguins found it challenging skating against the wind.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said you've got to be ready for any kind of adverse weather conditions.

"For a few of our guys, this is going to be the third time they've been able to play outdoors," Bylsma said. "I think sometimes the elements are always a little bit different. But having said that, you can probably overcoach this game, and that's something I think I'll remember from the last one.

"You're dealing with elements; you're dealing with different ice conditions; you're dealing with snow. We had rain last time. We had a lot of water on the ice. To overcoach, I think it would be a mistake."

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik is almost as excited just playing the Hawks as he is about playing outdoors.

"Well, I think the outdoor schedule, in this case, you're playing a Western Conference team," Bylsma said. "We don't play them very often. They are Stanley Cup champions, and, again, one of the best teams, best records in the league. So, I think before the schedule comes out and after the schedule comes out, before we find out this is going to be an outdoor game, yet you know you're playing the Blackhawks, first and foremost, and you circle that as a day of a big game on your calendar.

"Yeah, I agree with Brooks. I think the outdoor game and playing outside in the elements, but first and foremost, it's the Blackhawks and playing a team that may be the best in the league."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said he's been watching the weather reports for more than a week.

"I've been looking at it for the last 10 days," Quenneville said. "I was trying to go further than that and couldn't get it. Now that we're in that range, it looks like it's going to be pretty cold. Getting that feel for it on Friday helped a little bit, but bundle up."

The Hawks are looking forward to the game and are glad it's finally here.

"I couldn't be more excited," Hawks winger Brandon Bollig said. "This is the epitome of hockey right here. Every kid that grows up playing outdoor hockey this is what you remember. Obviously, it would be nice to have it a little bit warmer, but it's not going to take away from the game at all."

It took about 10,000 gallons of water to make the ice, which is two inches thick for outdoor games to account for evaporation.

According to Dan Craig, the NHL's senior director of facilities operations, the ideal air temperature is 45 degrees. The ice is set at 22 degrees.

"This was a challenge because of the wind chill," Craig said. "The wind just comes and goes and comes and goes."

•Follow Tim's Blackhawks and hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone.

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