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At Wrigley Field: Hey, hey! Let's play 3 today (periods, that is)

December 31, 2008 |  9:10 am

Wrigley Fiield -- on ice.

CHICAGO -- Walking out of my hotel room and into a Chicago morning that featured a wind-chill temperature in the single digits reminded me why I left this wonderful but cold city many years ago.

But stepping out of the dugout at Wrigley Field and seeing an NHL rink set up in the infield made me forget the cold and marvel at what the NHL is doing for Thursday's Winter Classic Game.

You don't have to be a hockey fan to appreciate the bizarre nature of seeing a rink standing where the Cubs' infielders should be (if they had good range). The puck will be dropped roughly where second base would be, and the pitcher's mound -- covered on Wednesday with a blue tarp -- is behind the area where the penalty boxes will be when the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings face off at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

Playing on the baseball motif, there will be a second-period stretch and backdrops have been hung on the outfield walls and outside of the rink itself depicting brick walls and lush green ivy. Real ivy doesn't do well in the winter--kind of like the Cubs in postseason play.

"Doesn't it look great in this sort of cathedral?" said John Collins, the NHL's chief operating officer, surveying the field at about 9:15 a.m. Chicago time.

Behind him, workers were spraying a hose over the ice to groom it to NHL standards. Collins promised that the ice will be better than it was for the previous Winter Classic, last New Year's Day at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium. In that game, the snow created great atmosphere but the ice was awful in some spots, leading to delays for repairs.

The NHL has had almost twice as much time to set up as it did a year ago and since then has invested in advanced technology that should improve the ice. "Everything is kind of elevated," Collins said of the level of execution. "This is NHL, regular-season, top-quality ice."

Video screens have been set up for fans in field-level seats, whose view will be obstructed by the boards. A smaller auxiliary rink has been set up in the outfield and will be used by kids, who will be shown during the commercial breaks on NBC.

More later from Wrigley Field ... after my pen thaws.

-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Workers prepare the rink at Wrigley Field for the New Year's Day's NHL Winter Classic hockey game. Credit: M. Spencer Green / Associated Press

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