Thursday, December 27, 2007
Making NHL-standard ice a test even in Buffalo outdoors
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's December in Buffalo: Just how
hard could it be to make ice outdoors?
Considering the equipment NHL ice-making specialist Dan Craig
brought with him this week -- dozens of rolls of plastic pipe,
near-endless gallons of coolant and two 400-ton refrigeration units
-- it appears more difficult than might be expected.
Craig must build a 1½-inch, smooth-as-glass surface that will
hold up to rain, above-freezing temperatures, and be fit for Sidney
Crosby and Company to play upon Tuesday when the Sabres host the
Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL Winter Classic outdoor game.
This is no typical regular and rutty backyard rink Craig is
building at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He's preparing for what will be
the league's second outdoor game, first in the United States.
"On the engineering side, it's a lot different," Craig said
Thursday. "When I put a rink in my backyard, Mother Nature helps
me or she takes it away. Here, I can make it and I can keep it."
Evidence of that occurred Thursday when the first thin layer of
ice was created despite a persistent drizzle, with temperatures in
the upper-30s. The rain actually helped the ice-making process
because it lessened the amount of water Craig had to pour on the
rink's surface, which was already cooled to 20 degrees.
"It doesn't matter how I get that water down there," Craig
said. "We call it, `God helping us make ice today,' because as
quick as it was falling, we were freezing it."
It's a complex process that requires both precision and
The temporary rink, with boards in place, was built above the
field, sitting atop an intricate series of plastic pipes -- or ice
mats, as they're called -- that run across the width of the ice
sheet. Sand was then poured onto the pipes to hold them in place
and to create a level surface.
The combination of running coolant through the pipes and pouring
water on the sand created a frozen concrete-like mixture that
provides an ideal base for making ice.
Crews will now spend the night spraying the surface to build an
inch-thick sheet, which will then be ready to be painted. Craig
expects by Friday afternoon to have the entire surface painted
white and the center-ice logo in place.
The red and blue lines, face-off circles and goal-crease areas
will also be painted in.
Once that's completed, another half-inch of ice will be built to
meet NHL standards, and crews will use Zambonis to keep the sheet
smooth and level in preparation for Monday, when both teams are
scheduled to practice outdoors.
"As we see it right now, we're moving along very smoothly,"
Craig said. "Definitely, we're right there, right exactly where we
need to be."
The NHL has played outdoors once before at Edmonton's
Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 22, 2003, when the Oilers hosted the
The Sabres have already expressed interest in hosting another
outdoor game based on the initial reaction they've received in
preparing for this one.
The 42,000 tickets made available to fans were purchased within
a half-hour after they went on sale in September. The remaining
30,000 tickets set aside for season-ticket holders and the NHL have
also been sold.
Craig is working nearly round the clock in taking every
precaution to make sure next week's game is a success. He noted NHL
arenas are equipped with only one 400-ton refrigeration unit, while
he brought two.
Mother Nature is also cooperating, with the initial game-day
forecast calling for 30-degrees and flurries. That's better than
playing indoors, where arenas are kept at 62 degrees.
"We'll be able to make ice that's almost too hard," he said.
Craig was so confident in the ice's consistency that he
considered giving it a test later in the day.
"Give me another three hours of flood time out there, and I'd
probably put my skates on and go for a twirl myself," Craig said.