Friday, March 28, 2014

Where Does All of the Ice Go When Hockey Isn’t Being Played?

This is one of the most common questions that we regularly receive from fans. The truth is that the ice is down nearly year-round. The last time you visited us for a non-hockey event, it is likely that the entire show was taking place on top of the ice.

While the answer is simple, the work behind it is not as simple so we seldom remove the ice in its entirety. The process of maintaining and removing/replacing the ice takes hours of skilled labor and attention to detail to make sure it is carried out smoothly. In fact, the only times we always remove the ice are when Monster Jam and Ringling Bros. come to town. (Monster Jam’s massive trucks require the traction that the friction with the cement floor provides, and the circus has to rig props into the floor to ensure safety for their performers.) Aside from these two shows and an occasional summer floor cleaning, the ice is covered with a couple layers of temporary flooring that fits together like giant puzzle pieces.

The ice is normally maintained at 17 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and is approximately one inch thick. In the past, a deionizer tank system was used in the creation of the ice, but we have switched over to a custom reverse osmosis water filtration system, which is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

The process of removing the ice starts with our Zamboni’s. We use these ice resurfacers to help expose the logos underneath. These mesh logos, usually there are about 20 of them, are carefully pulled out of the ice to be cleaned and stored. The ice is then heated to loosen it up. Once the ice has softened, we use multiple vehicles, two Zamboni’s with a special “V” plow attached, a plow truck, a tractor, and two hi-los, to remove the ice. Once the majority of the ice is removed, a squeegee is attached to the tractor in order to further push the water down drains. Once complete, the floor is cleaned, the side boards removed, and setup for the incoming show begins.

This does not mean the job is done, however. Once the show is over, the ice needs to be rebuilt. To begin, the floor is cleaned with a special solvent. In the case of Monster Jam, we rent a “monster” sized floor scrubber to remove the tire tracks left embedded in the concrete. While cleaning the floor, we slowly cool the concrete by running coolant through 12 miles of piping that lay underneath. If the floor cools too quickly, the concrete ice pad that our ice sheet rests on will crack. The temperature of the floor eventually reaches a chilly 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and the operations team lightly floods the floor to even it out and fill any imperfections.

To achieve a glowing, white-colored ice, we utilize a 60-gallon tank attached with a 200-foot hose to cover the floor with a white paint powder and cold water mixture. This step is repeated three times.

Now the more tedious work begins. Six layers of thin ice are laid down individually on top of the white paint. Once the sixth layer has frozen, the process of painting the lines begins. Screws are placed in specially marked spots on the dasher boards so we can attach strings to guide straight lines. Then a staff of two paints five perfect circles, each with a 30-foot circumference. Once half the lines and circles are completed another crew comes in and starts to paint the AHL or NCAA official hash marks and face off circles. This paint is in liquid form and is diluted with hot water. Meanwhile, the mesh logos are being perfectly placed. Once we have the logos down, they are sealed with a coating of fine spray from a pump sprayer. This must be done many times to make sure the logos do not move or blur.

Now it is time to bring out the big hose. Once all logos are in place and painting is done, we pump several thin layers of water onto the ice throughout the night. It may sound odd, but once the ice reaches about a half-inch of thickness, we use Zamboni’s to flood the ice with hot water in order to relieve any ice stresses. If done properly the sheet of ice should look like crystal clear glass!

At this point, the hard work is over and the ice needs to be “skated in” as the perfect ice sheet is too dense for the liking of a professional or collegiate hockey team.

Special thanks to our Operations Manager, Kevin Abbott, and his crew for walking us through the process and keeping everything running smoothly. Keep up the impressive work guys!