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The Ice Man Cometh

Monday, 16.01.2012 / 2:57 PM / Feature
By Chris Kreviazuk

As hockey fans, we’ve stared at it our whole lives. Subconsciously observed, it often goes unnoticed in a sea of players, sticks and skates, merely the vast white canvas on which our beloved game is played. Indeed, our knowledge of the playing surface often barely scratches the surface. There is more involved in making ice than meets the eye, and ensuring that its quality remains up to NHL standards is no simple task.

Despite the fact that it stands a mere 1 1/8 of an inch in height, there are many layers present within the ice surface at MTS Centre. Contrary to what many people think, creating ice is not just a matter of dumping water in the rink and letting it freeze. When laying down water, patience is of the utmost importance if you hope to achieve a high quality of ice. In this case, less is certainly more.

“For much of the ice making process, we use a sprayer cart to apply many fine layers of ice rather than hose flooding, which builds a stronger, denser sheet of ice,” says True North Manager of Ice Operations Derek King.

The interesting progression begins with nothing but a concrete slab, and creating the NHL playing surface we have become so familiar with takes King and his staff roughly two days of round-the-clock work.

“We start by bringing the rink floor temperature down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit,” says King. Once we reach that temperature we apply 15 cold water spray floods to seal the concrete, and provide a strong base for the rest of the ice.”

The next step is applying the white paint, which creates the bright surface allowing the black puck to be easily visible. This is also applied using the sprayer cart, this time with white powder mixed with the cold water.

“Once we put down the white paint, we continue the cold mists until the ice is ¼ of an inch thick,” says King. “We then apply lines, circles, dots and creases, which are all painted. Once these are completed we position the logos on the ice, and carefully seal them into the surface by misting.

After there is a safe amount of ice above the logos, King and his team will switch over to hot water, and continue the misting process until there is ½ an inch of ice above the lines and logos. At this point the Zamboni makes its first appearance, as it is used to apply hot water floods until the ice is at its acceptable level of 1 1/8 of an inch.

As meticulous and time-consuming as it is to make ice in this fashion, the difficult part for King and his staff is ensuring that the ice remains in perfect condition for each Jets game. Temperature and humidity are the two main concerns in this regard, and preparation must take place well-before puck drop to ensure suitable ice conditions.

“Humidity is a huge concern,” says King. “We can’t control the conditions outside, but we can control the indoor environment to a large extent. Our targeted humidity at game time is between 30-40%, so if the outdoor humidity is above that – even if it’s cold outside - we will minimize the flow of outside air into the building, and use mechanical cooling to bring the building temperature and humidity to an acceptable level.”

Controlling humidity is a balancing act. With too much humidity, the shavings on the ice absorb the water from the atmosphere, making them heavy, and creating more snow. This leads to ‘slower’ ice. Too little, and the atmosphere pulls water from the ice, creating a different problem.
“It is comparable to putting a tray of ice cubes in the freezer for a month,” says King. “They shrink, because the humidity has been sucked out of them. When this effect occurs on a hockey surface, the ice becomes brittle and chips away.”

Humidity is a huge concern. We can't control the conditions outside, but we can control the indoor environment to a large extent. - Derek King
Humidity levels increase during Jets games when the doors open, and 15,000 fans enter the building. Ice temperature also sees a steady and significant increase during games.

“The ice temperature before warm-up is about 18 degrees Fahrenheit, but that will climb as high as 24 degrees during the game,” says King. “The NHL’s standard for maximum temperature at the conclusion of a game is 24 degrees.”

There are many reasons for the increase in surface temperature throughout an NHL game, including the heat created by the large amount of spectators, rink lights, and the 160 degree water being placed on the ice during intermissions by the Zamboni.

“The effects of temperature on the ice are not easily observed by the crowd, but we can notice the changes very easily down at ice level,” says King. “We can see how much snow is being created, how much rutting is occurring, and how the water is freezing after floods.”

MTS Centre is home to numerous non-hockey-related events during the NHL season. For these events, the ice surface is covered up, which can lead to additional challenges for King and his crew.

“The longer the ice is covered up for events, the more you have to build the ice up prior to covering,” says King. “The reason for this is that the ice becomes dehydrated when it is covered up, leading to the loss of some ice. Also, dirt may fall through the floor during events, damaging the top layer of ice. Due to how thin our ice is, we cannot risk having our ice level drop substantially. As a result, we build it up before covering for an event, then when we uncover, we use the Zamboni to shave off the excess ice, bringing it back to a normal thickness.”

King’s protection of the playing surface is justified now more than ever. With the NHL back in town, so too is a higher standard for ice quality. To that end, the league has a system in place for rating the ice in its 30 buildings.

It was great to work with a lot of the NHL Ice Technicians, and to see how they do things. It was nice to see that even though here at MTS Centre we have not had the NHL experience that they have, we are on par with NHL standards in a lot of things we've been doing over the years - Derek King
“The referees will complete an ice report at the end of each game, which is then sent to the league,” says King. “In turn, the NHL sends us back a report so we know what we’ve done right, and what needs improvement.”

King is acutely aware of what is required of an NHL ice surface. While working at the AHL level since the opening of MTS Centre in 2004, he has remained in close contact with many of the NHL’s Ice Technicians. These relationships, as well as King’s experience led to him being one of few AHL Ice Technicians being invited to help make the ice at the 2011 NHL Heritage Classic at McMahon Stadium in Calgary. This season he was invited to help at the 2012 NHL Winter Classic in Philadlphia.

“It was great to work with a lot of the NHL Ice Technicians, and to see how they do things,” says King. “It was nice to see that even though here at MTS Centre we have not had the NHL experience that they have, we are on par with NHL standards in a lot of things we’ve been doing over the years.”




1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67


B. Wheeler 82 28 41 4 69
B. Little 82 23 41 8 64
D. Byfuglien 78 20 36 -20 56
A. Ladd 78 23 31 8 54
O. Jokinen 82 18 25 -8 43
M. Frolik 81 15 27 8 42
E. Kane 63 19 22 -7 41
M. Scheifele 63 13 21 9 34
T. Enstrom 82 10 20 -9 30
J. Trouba 65 10 19 4 29
A. Montoya 13 8 3 .920 2.30
O. Pavelec 22 26 7 .901 3.01