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One issue with playing the Winter Classic in the District  is the unpredictable weather. In Ann Arbor, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs skated in a steady snow that only added to the atmosphere. Fans bundled up, braving temperatures that dipped as low as 12 degrees.

That wasn’t the case when the Caps played at Pittsburgh in 2011. Temperatures that night rose into the 50s and the players had to deal with a pouring rain that made the game brutishly simple: Fling the puck up ice and go chase it. Passes weren’t making it tape-to-tape.

But while Washington’s temperatures average between 29 degrees and 44 degrees in January, the city has seen massive blizzards (1996) early in the month and temperatures as high as 69 degrees (2005) on New Year's Day.

Still, Dan Craig, the NHL’s ice guru, isn’t fazed. He and his team have put together the rink for every Winter Classic and this year the league asked them to do six additional outdoor games, including two in New York during Super Bowl week and one in balmy Los Angeles between the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks at Dodgers Stadium. Craig and his crew arrived in Ann Arbor on Dec. 10 and the NHL’s ice truck followed on Dec. 14.

“Mother Nature, she’s going to do what she’s gonna do,” Craig said. “You deal with it. You get up in the morning, you watch the forecast and you have a few little tricks in your bag and hopefully everything works out.

On New Year’s Eve, while others were planning for evening festivities, Craig was monitoring everything from the surface temperature of the ice – 22 degrees is perfect – to the weather forecast, which called for steady, light snow most of the morning. Even a four-degree difference can force adjustments like turning off the heaters – yes, heaters – to reach that ideal number.

Craig was in Ann Arbor on Tuesday afternoon, but he challenged a reporter on the temperature in Los Angeles the night before. A nice warm evening in the 60s? Nope. The low was 48 degrees on the dot. That game will be played on Jan. 25.

Craig and his handpicked team of mechanics and engineers from across the country, with experiences as varied as Olympics and Stanley Cup finals, is ready. So he really isn’t worried about what the weather in Washington will bring him next New Year's Day.

Craig remembered how awful the ice was at Wrigley Field’s temporary rink in 2009 the day before the game. Players rightly complained about the conditions after a pair of practices on it. But on game day 24 hours later, the ice surface was, by all accounts, the best of any Winter Classic. Nothing can be taken for granted in Craig’s line of work.

Maybe one day the NHL will roll snake eyes and the weather will be a disaster, the ice surface dangerous. But the benefits to the league and the sport, financially and as a branded event on a national holiday, far outweigh those inevitable negatives.

“It’s kind of like the Super Bowl setup in a way,” Babcock said. “Our game, because we go back and forth to the Stanley Cup playoffs, doesn’t transfer that way. We can’t do it. But this is an unbelievable event to sell hockey.”