Making Ice for the 2013-14 OKC Barons Season
If you know me at all, you know that I love the nuts and bolts of hockey — everything about it, from how pucks are made, skate blade details, goaltender masks to equipment design. All of it fascinates me! And this week I was able to satisfy a missing piece to my hockey quest – I watched the process of making ice for a hockey rink. And what fun!
Whoever thinks making ice for a hockey rink is a quick process is wrong. Completely wrong! This is not simply a case of flooding an arena with water and calling it done! While it’s certainly not rocket science, it is a complicated, detailed, and very long process, and every person in charge of making ice for a hockey club has their own tricks of the trade. On Monday, I joined the Cox arena ice crew making this season’s ice for the OKC Barons and the entire process was great fun to watch. By the way, I highly encourage all fans to submit your names to the team drawing to participate in this event every year! It is a wonderful team tradition and it gives fans a much better understanding of this crucial behind-the-scenes process.
When we arrived early that morning (with coffee in hand!) the cement base known as the “ice slab” had been chilled to specifications by the “Chiller” (the refrigeration system) used for ice rinks. This system works the same way your refrigerator or air conditioner works, however in this case the “ice slab” is what is being chilled to freezing temperatures. A system of pipes, filled with a brinewater solution, run through the cement slab chilling it to the necessary temperature and once this stage is reached the fun begins!
To create a good skating surface that can withstand a season, the ice must be laid down in very thin layers, around 8 to 10 layers about 1/16th-inch thick, beginning with clear layers, followed by white paint layers. After the thin layers are applied, the lines, circles and faceoff circles are painted, the team logo and sponsor logos fixed in place, and the goalie crease is painted. Once that is complete – all to perfection! – the ice surface is then flooded with additional clear water making the entire ice thickness about 1-inch deep.
The first step is laying down several layers of plain water – at the Cox this is accomplished in a hands-on method with a long horizontal sprayer mechanism (see photos), followed by a crew supporting and moving the water hose to keep up with the lead fellow. Think in terms of “crack the whip” or a “Conga line” and you will get the picture. The crew is continually moving to keep off the freshly sprayed surface, allowing it to freeze, while moving onto the next section. And with each new layer, the direction of application is changed – East to West, North to South, even varying which corner the application begins, therefore it is necessary to a keep written record of the process, to note where you’ve been, and where you are going.
Following the application of about 3 to 4 thin layers of water (and a tasty hot lunch of BBQ served to the crew and hangers-on like us!) the excitement builds among the crew when the 40-pound bags of dry white paint powder is added into the large mixing container and then pumped through the long hose to the sprayer. It’s a messy process, as indicated by the laughter, splatters and splashes as the mixer is turned on. To give you a better idea — it’s like a large kitchen mixer that splashes cake batter on you if you’ve turned the mixer on too high – and even with a heavy lid this mixer manages to splash a bit of the white paint out onto the floor and surrounding crew!
Don’t be fooled! This is not your average ordinary white paint! This is “Jet Ice” which proclaims “We Bring Ice to Life” – and if there are any questions about it, it says right on the side that this is the “Preferred Rink Equipment Provider of the NHL.” The moment the white paint layer begins to cover the frozen slab, the arena brightens very rapidly as the ceiling lights are reflected off the white surface, and increases as the white layers are applied.
Believe it or not, the next stage involves string! The lines, logos, and goal crease placement are all dictated by AHL rules and regulations, which provide spacing and dimensions for ice rinks (see the official AHL diagrams in the photos). In order to find center of the rink, the crews work off the two sets of goal post holes and configure the lines using string. Rink boards are not always even, so measurements are based off the goalie posts to make the inner rink measurements accurate. The string is then “frozen” to the surface acting as guidelines for the line painting. Once the center of the ice is determined, a stick with a marker attached to the end is tied to a string attached to the center of the ice and a fellow “walks” the stick-marker around in a circle – a human-scale compass of sorts. This provides the location for the center ice logo layout. If the strings are off by any amount, they are pulled up, re-measured and re-frozen.
By this point most of a day had passed and sadly I had to depart not long after 4pm, before the actual painting started, however Baron’s photographer Steven Christie documented the entire process and his photographs show how the painting process is accomplished. Perhaps I will be able to return in February when they do this all over again just to watch the painting portion of the process – and perhaps I can beg to paint a goalie crease? The Cox Center Arena ice is removed in February every season for a gymnastics event and then reapplied to continue the Barons season. Perhaps by that point the team will also want a penny or two set into the goal crease? To pass along good luck for the playoffs? Come on Barons! Let’s do this!
Thanks to the Cox Arena Ice Crew for letting us join them on Monday and for patiently answering all of my questions! Thanks also to Josh, Cassie, and Steven as well! It was such a fun day.