Brandon's Blog: The Unseen Heroes of the Winter Classic

Jan. 3, 2014

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

The weather outside was indeed frightful, but the 2014 NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium was an event few will ever forget. The bone-chilling cold, the snow and other discomforts took a back seat to a New Year's Day event that placed the NHL on center stage for all of North America to see.

Fans at the Big House, and those watching on television, witnessed men shoveling snow off the game surface to make conditions playable -- during the game. The media actually gave kudos to NHL ice guru Dan Craig for how he built the rink and was able to maintain the playing conditions.

And yes, kudos go out to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL staff for their efforts in bringing the Winter Classic to our U-M campus.

What most fans did not notice was the amazing work that took place behind the scenes, and much of it was from our University of Michigan Athletic Department team.

The Winter Classic success was due in part to the countless hours our men and women worked to help make sure every detail was handled. From the first day the Winter Classic was awarded to U-M in 2012 and continuing through the upcoming weekend with clean-up duties, the U-M team worked hand in hand with the NHL to ensure this event was a success.

In December, 14-hour days were not uncommon. As if it wasn't hard enough to change a football stadium into a hockey rink, Mother Nature got into the act. A late December snowfall required our maintenance team and countless other members of the U-M community to work five straight 16-hour days prior to Christmas, removing snow from Michigan Stadium.

More than 140 yards of snow from the upper bowl and the ring around the stadium was removed and transported to the area behind the Varsity Tennis Center. It took seven days to melt the snow in the lower bowl (row 60 and below) using jet engines to blow heat under huge tarps.

But Mother Nature had another surprise. A game-time temperature of 13 degrees and up to six inches of snow fell on Ann Arbor just prior to and during the hockey game.

Winter Classic photo

On game day -- New Year's morning -- the U-M team assembled at 4 a.m. to do its best to keep our parking areas, stadium steps and pedestrian pathways clear of ice and snow. Many of our team salted the aisleways of the 90 rows of seats in Michigan Stadium. Those team members not only went up and down the hundreds of steps, they had to do it with 20 pounds of equipment strapped to their bodies to efficiently deliver the salt. Most of these men and women worked through the game and then after the event to do their best to improve fan egress as the weather worsened. Some hearty team members did not go home until very late on New Year's night.

The managers get the glory, but it was their men and women who did the hard work to help the University of Michigan and the NHL put on hockey's signature one-day spectacle, and their efforts reached beyond U-M and the NHL. They put on a bowl game experience for Maple Leaf fans. It was the first time a Canadian team played in the NHL's New Year's Day Winter Classic, and the visitors walked away happy and impressed after providing an estimated $25-30 million economic impact to Washtenaw County alone.

The publicity for U-M and the Ann Arbor community prior to, during and even after the Winter Classic has been positive and plentiful. The game brought in a 2.9 overnight rating for NBC, the best-ever overnight for an NHL regular-season game in the United States, according to metered market data from the Nielsen Company. And don't forget, the CBC carried this game nationally too.

Mother Nature did its best to make sure everyone knew the Winter Classic was played in winter, but we have to thank all the University of Michigan Athletic Department team members who battled the elements to make this New Year's Day a memory that will be frozen (literally) in time for so many.

Thanks to Chris Ehman, Shelly Fabrizio, Collin McCarty, Jerry Wood, Brett Mitchell, Ryan Duey, Damon Grosz, all the Event Team members, UMPD, the U-M Plant Department, and the hundreds of other men and women who made the 2014 NHL Winter Classic a success.

Go Blue!

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