One thing we often take for granted in our great sport of ice hockey is the actual ice itself. It’s what sets hockey apart from any other major sport, and yet if you’re like me, you don’t know a whole lot about it. That is, until now.
My brother works at the local ice complex. He gets to drive the zamboni and all that fun stuff. Then every summer they get rid of their old, chopped ice and make it again. Here’s the process
Under all the ice is one big slab of concrete. And running through that are long pipes that are used to cool it. The cold concrete then allows the ice to freeze. A very cold solution called “brine water” is sent through the pipes to get them that cold without freezing. If it was just regular water then the pipes would clog and burst. That would be a pretty expensive mistake to make.
It takes a lot of energy to run these pipes. Have you ever thought about what would happen if the power went out? The ice would melt and a lot of time and money would be lost. Thankfully most rinks have emergency power generators that keep the place running in case of a storm or outage. Plus, it would be pretty hard to play hockey in the dark.
Freezing and Painting
Once the concrete is cool enough, the rink gets sprayed with water a few times, creating the first small layers of ice. That ice then gets painted white. If this step was skipped, you’d be playing on a gray rink. The ice is white not because it looks nice, but because it’s the biggest contrast with a black puck.
A few more layers of ice go down, and then it’s time to paint the lines. Putting the bluelines, circle, goal crease, and everything else can be a very time consuming process. Thankfully they have special tools to help. Check out this picture of my brother's crew painting the center circle:
Final Touches and Staying Cool
Once everything is painted, about 10 more layers of ice are put down. That may sound like a lot, but at the end of all this the ice is only ¾ inch. Then it’s ready for people to skate and play hockey on it.
Ice hockey rinks have to be kept cold all the time. Ours has commercial air conditioning cranked up to keep the building cool even in the middle of summer. Right now we’re all enjoying the polar vortex and unseasonably cool weather, but on a hot July day the rink has to have some pretty good A/C when there’s a game and a ton of fans in attendance.
Driving the Zamboni
No, I’ve never gotten to do it. My brother says it’s fun the first time, and then gets annoying. You become the enemy of kids who have to wait for you to “hurry up” and clean the ice so they can get back to playing. It’s a pretty thankless job, apparently.
Well, that’s all for me. Less than 3 months until the Blackhawks are back! Until then… Go Cubs?