"Icing on the Cake"
As just about any UNO hockey player will tell you, not all ice is created equal. Boston U. and Western Michigan have good ice, say a few Mavericks. “Colder arenas in colder climates,” says freshman defenseman Joel Messner.
As for bad ice, the worst of all might have been right in UNO’s backyard when the Mavs played North Dakota in an outdoor game at TD Ameritrade Park in February 2013. The temperature hit 49 degrees that afternoon and by the scheduled face off, puddles of water were everywhere on the temporary rink. The start was delayed more than two hours until the surface could refreeze. But that only helped a bit. “The sun was beating down on it all day,” recalls junior forward Tanner Lane, “When it came to our game, the ice was bumpy, slushy and soft.”
How to Make Ice
Don’t expect anything close to that in the newly named Baxter Arena that will host its first hockey game Oct. 23 when UNO plays Air Force. Also home to UNO basketball and volleyball, the arena will feature two sheets of ice.
One is guaranteed for community use at least 33 percent of the time and will support youth hockey, curling, figure skating and more. The Mavericks will skate on the competition sheet in the main arena, an NHL-standard rink 200 by 85 feet. Getting the arena and ice ready for their debut is the responsibility of Michael Cera, associate athletic director and general manager of the arena, and Ryan Weiss, director of operations.
Making the ice is no simple feat. It starts with 10 to 12 miles of piping. On top of that are two slabs of concrete — a “warm” slab and “cold” slab. Compressors pump ammonia through the piping to chill the floor to 16 degrees. After that, a thin layer of water is sprayed. Next, a white powder is applied to the surface. Another layer of water is sprayed, then lines and logos are applied. Templates for NHL lines help paint the goal-crease lines, circles and face-off dots. A final layer of water is applied and allowed to freeze until the ideal skating surface, about 1 inch thick, has been created. The entire process takes three to four days.
Weiss will do a “black ice test” prior to installing the first competition sheet of ice to see how fast and how well the surface freezes.
Maintaining a stable temperature throughout the arena and regulating humidity is critical if the ice is to be as hard as the Mavericks want it. “If the ice is too soft, you dig in more, it’s harder to glide and it’s more difficult to gain speed,” Messner says. That sometimes was the case at CenturyLink Center, which UNO shared with the Creighton basketball team.
“Lets say we played a game the same day they had a game, the ice would be pretty soft and harder to play on,” Messner says. “If Creighton was away or there was a break in events, the ice was harder and better quality.”
On site since June 2014, Cera and Weiss are excited for the grand opening in October. “We couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with,” Cera says. “The leadership team has been extremely supportive of the project and this is one of the smoother projects we’ve been on.”
Hopefully, the same will be said of the ice.