An ice rink is more than just frozen water on top of a concrete slab.
Yes, it is also that, but the process of getting ice game-ready for the best hockey players in the world isn’t an overnight event.
In fact, for the crew to make sure the Kraken can play games the night after other events at Climate Pledge Arena, there’s a long process, though not overly difficult for the experts, to ensure the ice stays in good condition.
“The process is not that complicated,” said Tom Conroy, Climate Pledge Arena senior vice president of operations and assistant general manager. “The arena floor is a concrete slab. It’s refrigerated from underneath, and the process drops down the temperature somewhere around 16 degrees. Then you slowly build up a little bit of base ice, get enough ice on there to walk without your feet melting it. … Get an eighth to a quarter of an inch, then paint it white, put down the lines, logos, circles.”
After that, they build the ice up with a misting process with a hose, which leaves it thick enough for a Zamboni, a vehicle that resurfaces the ice, to lay water down and get about three-fourths of an inch to an inch and a half.
“A little less than an inch is where you want it to be for a hockey game,” Conroy said.
Conroy began working on ice at Matthews Arena, the home of the Northeastern University hockey teams in Boston, in the 1980s while he was a student. As a kid he helped his father, who ran the practice rinks for the New York Islanders.
After that, Conroy worked in Maine at the Cumberland County Civic Center before transitioning to the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts, and then his NHL break with the Ottawa Senators.
This is his third time working to open an arena, and he has assembled an all-star cast to make the ice at Climate Pledge what he believes will be the best in the league.
Good ice is important in hockey — too cold, and it can start to crack, but the bigger challenge is ensuring it doesn’t get too warm.
Warm ice can make for sloppy play, with more snow building up and opportunity for the puck to stop and not slide along the ice, but more than that it can be dangerous, because the snow can refreeze and create bumps. The goal is to keep it between 22 and 24 degrees, and when fans enter the building around 24 degrees with the air temperature no more than 62 degrees.
Fan presence creates a rise in temperature naturally, and that’s something Conroy and his crew monitor.
Because the modern NHL is a faster game than even when Conroy began working at NHL arenas in 1996, there’s a focus on ensuring the ice is fast enough to keep up.
“I made sure we went out and got the best professionals available to work for us,” Conroy said. “I am fairly confident that with the individuals I hired on board in the past year, we are one of the best places we possibly could be going into the season.”
Conroy recruited Zamboni drivers along with the crew, and he said the allure of the new arena, and it being in Seattle, made it easy to recruit some of the best in the business.
Like most NHL arenas, Climate Pledge will hosts concerts along with basketball games played by the WNBA’s Storm and Seattle University, so that involves the crew working late after those events to get the ice ready. They’ll face that right away with a Coldplay concert Friday, the night before the Kraken’s home opener.
“That’s common practice in the industry,” Conroy said. “It’s no more complicated. … Every NHL and NBA arena does back-to-back events; it’s part of the business. It just means more people working overnight in a little more of a pinch. If you know what you’re doing, if you run a clean operation, get the concert moved out and the glass back in and ice recovery in the morning, scrape it down for (the) skate in the morning, it should be fine.”
Climate Pledge will be busy for a while, hosting the first Kraken season and the draw of it being the newest arena in the country, along with the Islanders’ UBS Arena in Elmont, New York. The Kraken has started on the road with five consecutive games while Climate Pledge Arena gets set. The Islanders had to embark on a 13-game road trip.
The Kraken should consider itself lucky that Conroy and the rest of the Climate Pledge crew haven’t put it in that spot; and the team will see the results of their actions on opening night, with the ice crew working overnight after the concert until it’s time for the Kraken home debut.