Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Oh What A Night! May 13, 2014

All that really matters is CYCLONES WIN! and advance to the 2014 Eastern Conference Championships. 8 wins away from bringing the Kelly Cup back to Cincinnati.

Secondarily, what matters is that I have fodder for an interesting blog post.

Other than that, my day was pretty crappy.  I got to the arena this morning for the Cyclones morning skate. Somebody said the fire alarm had gone off but they did not know why. Then as I walked through the building, Ft. Wayne was also there set up, so they would also have a morning skate. No problem, really, just a layer of complexity to the day. I had hoped they skated up there and drove down for the game.

Come to find out, there was a problem with one of the building's air conditioning unit. It would not be fixed by game time, and the building was heating up. Making it worse, several of the doors were open due to the construction inside the building. "We can deal with this," I thought. Might have to run "Blast Mode" on the ice plant and we'll be fine.

Silly me.

Turns out some components are shared between the building chiller and the ice plant. When I did my morning walk-through inspection of the ice plant, I noticed an alarm and notified the engineers. They would send somebody down later.  When I did my walk-through after the resurfacing for Ft. Wayne, there were more alarms and some audible detection of problems. Called the engineers back, they needed to get there right away.

The first problem led to a cascade of other problems. Some fail-safe did their job and relieved pressure before damage was done - but parts still failed and the chilling capacity of the ice plant was cut significantly. They had to shut it all done for the band-aid repairs, and by the time they got it running we were losing ice temperature and getting behind the 8-ball. Since the building was too warm and the ice chilling capacity was reduced, we were in trouble.

Did did dry cuts after practices to take some mass off the ice and take off the soft top layer. No water was put down to save energy/chilling demand. The ice was left until just before doors opened for the game. Then I did another dry cut to take off the soft top, and a regular resurface cut but with barely any water. Just enough to glaze over.

Same thing for the cut after warm-ups. We closely monitored the ice surface temperature and the temps of the brine solution going out to the ice and coming back. Much higher than normal. Still below freezing, but too warm for comfort.

On-ice intermission activities were cancelled to give me the full 18 minutes to work on the ice and give it extra time to freeze. I lowered the Zamboni blade until I could visually see a perfect deep shave all the way across the Zam. Normally I am limited to collecting one tank full of snow but this time I did not care about the rate of snow accumulation. I only cared about how the ice looked. With it perfectly shaved, I could use just barely a drizzle of water.

As expected, I filled the tank about halfway through the cut. Perfect. Taking off as much as I can in two tanks. Any less and the ice is not as good as it could be. Any more would mean another exit to dump and cut down on freeze time.

If you were there you could still see some wet spots. As the game ran on, the heat from the lights and the crowd built up and our strained capacity to keep it frozen was more and more strained. The ice was definitely soft and surface temperature was between 25-29 degrees, and getting slightly warmer over time.

But, we went the extra mile and did the best we could to give the best possible ice under the circumstances. It was not good ice by my standards, but we made the best of the situation. Outstanding teamwork between operations, marketing and administration, the engineers, the officials, and even both coaches and teams. We tried to keep everyone informed so at least they knew we were doing all that could be done.

I'm proud of the job everyone did and I truly appreciate everyone's understanding.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

NCAA / Olympia / Ice Report


So I got pretty good with the Olympia in time for the NCAA Midwest Regional games. It is a very different driving strategy, mostly because of how the auger speed varies with the engine RPM, which changes with the throttle. It is important to keep them spinning, so I learned to slow down slowly, if that makes sense, but mostly always stay on the throttle at least a little bit. I slowed down in advance of the turns, so I could power through the turns to keep the snow moving. That was really the biggest difference.

The Olympia does not turn as tightly as the Zamboni, so that was an adjustment too but mostly we accommodated that with the resurfacing pattern. If you were not at the NCAA to see it, well first you missed some great hockey, but we started our patterns in opposite corners and then I went straight up the middle after only one total outside pass instead of the customary two. You will (hopefully) see it at some Cyclones games.


Hosting the NCAA Midwest Regionals was an amazing experience. So much activity in the building, different groups focused on their tasks but respectful of each other. The staff at US Bank Arena, and especially Production Manager Ian Adkins did an amazing job. The amount of logistics, contractual obligations, and fine details that he had to juggle were astounding and he handled it gracefully.

The NCAA reps and the Miami reps were, as to be expected, professional and courteous. But, it was more than that. These were genuinely good folks, all interested in having a fair, competitive, and entertaining sporting event. Every detail was important, and they verified the details. However, they also left the expert work to the experts. They gently checked on things, nudged when necessary, but always with the ultimate goal in mind of doing things well. That was all. It was not a "me" mentality. It was a goal-oriented approach and it worked. It worked well.

Even the media were great to deal with. Thursday when I got there, the first person I had a conversation with was a video guy from ESPN. He was sheepishly asking it would be okay to mount a GoPro camera on the Zamboni for some background shots. He assured me it would be out of the way and he had safety cables to secure it if the suction-mount came loose. My response was, "of course you can, would you like to shoot with two? I can bring mine in as well." He was shocked. Apparently other ice guys have been hesitant about it.

To me, it goes back to the theme that we all want the event to go well and to be well-represented and look good. So, it just made sense. They ended up using a lot of the footage. His was on the side of the Zam, facing forward. You could see the board brush doing its job down the boards. My camera was mounted backwards, which showed the ice half resurfaced and half rough. It also made a nice "text crawl" effect of the writing on the dasher boards. Pretty cool, footage from my personal GoPro on ESPN-U.

Again, the important thing to relay is absolute professionalism by all.

Ice Report

We were actually worried about the ice. The pressure for ideal, NHL-quality, ice was real. But, the added mass of the NCAA stuff on top the the Cyclones surface meant that the ice would be harder to maintain, in terms of temperature. The chiller system functioned well. Refurbishments and compressor rebuilds last summer paid off. They also added an electronic control system instead of the old system. Imagine the difference between a thermostat in your house from the 1970's versus the new digital ones. This is a more pro-active system. It also has a "Blast Mode" we can trigger manually under especially heavy loads.

Friday was indeed a very heavy load. All the game lights came on before 5:00 AM for Fox 19 Morning News and were left on all day for the various on-camera spots for the various media outlets and to just have it look its best. But that is a big heat load on the ice. Then all four teams had practice, with resurfacings for each, and then two full hockey games with a crowd of about 5000 in the building for, what, almost 7 hours? That is a huge drain on all the systems when compared to a Cyclones game with one or two morning practices, lights dim except during the game, and crowd only there for 3 hours.

I am pleased to report that the ice was great and we had compliments from many sources. We were told that one of the teams (which I will not name) was notorious for complaining about ice conditions. They loved ours! Amusingly, their video guy was telling me how bad the ice was at a place they were at last year. They were in an AHL facility in the north where you would expect impeccable ice. They were concerned coming to Cincinnati since it is not exactly a hockey town; but they ended up loving our ice!

Another school had a big alumni gathering for the weekend and a luncheon in the restaurant Saturday afternoon when we were grooming the ice fastidiously. They stopped a security person with a radio and requested they radio us to tell us they had never seen such good ice and good care being taken of it. What they saw was physically attractive, which does not necessarily translate to the best skating ice but a compliment is a compliment.

The ability to take off two tanks' worth of snow with one pass was a huge benefit. Literally, we were able to cut through virtually every skate mark and leave the ice perfectly smooth. Usually it takes me several passes with one machine. During use, the concern is taking off more than we put back with water, but we are finishing in under 5 minutes, leaving extra freeze time, so we just blasted the water.

Still, we gradually lost depth. But this was highly unusual because of the number of uses and resurfaces. 4 practices Thursday, another 4 on Friday plus 2 games, and 2 practices and a game on Saturday. Each with at least 1 resurfacing pass. Using two machines for standard Cyclones games, we will easily be able to replenish.

We did have one problem, and now that it is over I can describe it with relief. When it was happening, we were freaking out but also thinking, "if this is the worst thing that happens we are okay." Turns out, it was the worst thing that happened, PHEW!

I'm taking a dramatic pause now. This entry is getting long already, and I want to milk this for some more mileage.



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Olympia Preparation

Hi All,

When last I posted, I had averted disaster while doing some shaving with the Olympia machine. It was not quite ready for prime time because the shaving blade had some dings in it. New, sharp, blades arrived separately from the machine and we were pleased to be able to install them. Pretty much the same process as a Zamboni, remove the bolts and take out the old blade, wire-brush the blade holder plate and top of the new blade, rub down with WD-40, and install the new blade.

There are two adjustments for a new blade, first is the pitch or attack angle of the shaving blade. Zamboni has guide lines inside the conditioner; Olympia uses a peep-site mounted on the side, you line up a rod with the peep site and the pitch is set. After install the new new blade at proper pitch, it must be leveled. Threaded rods on both sides of the conditioner allow for fine tuning the level. The Olympia uses the same concept but is different to adjust.

Once we figured it out, we found it perhaps a big easier to get leveled than on a Zamboni. Using a flat plate, the bottom of the blade is lined up exactly with the bottom of the runner on both sides. This is the "course" adjustment. Then the blade is adjusted upward and you go on the ice and do some dry shaving. You can see visually if one side is digging deeper than the other. You can also drag the blade on the ice a few feet without turning on the conveyors. The snow shaved should be evenly distributed across the blade. Adjusting as needed is the "fine" adjustment.

We found it was fairly easy to set, our course adjustment did not need much fine tuning, and the cut was very even, consistent. and smooth. Of course it is smooth, you say, but sometimes you get "cavitations" or ripples as the conditioner or blade is unstable. We experienced none of that with the Olympia. We also put a fresh blade on the Zamboni for consistency's sake. Then, after the Cyclones game on March 22, both machines were deployed to shave down the ice to a level much lower than normally used for skating.

We were targeting getting down to about 1/2 inch, leaving at least 1/4 inch above the Cyclones ice paint. The NCAA surface would be painted on top. We did not want the ice to ultimately be too thick, but we had to leave room to safely shave off the NCAA surface without damaging the Cyclones surface. A delicate balance.

NCAA lines and logos painted on top, just like normal painting, then plenty of flooding on top of that for a clear coat, then, as mentioned before, another shave to level out the ripples and humps.

Voilà! brand spankin' new ice for the NCAA frozen four Mid-West Regionals.

So far, the Olympia is performing nicely. It is very different to operate, but it is doing its job well.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Disaster... Averted

Meanwhile, in Frostbite Falls (for those of you who remember Rocky and Bullwinkle)...

When we left off, I was leveling the ice with the Olympia. Let me digress for a moment to discuss the primary difference between Olympia and Zamboni: the power transmission system. The Zamboni uses a hydrostatic transmission, like an army tank. You set the engine RPM's to a specified level and a governor keeps it there. That keeps all the hydraulic pumps moving at a consistent speed. The transmission uses a lever, the further the lever is pushed, the faster it goes. On newer Zamboni's the foot pedal is also a transmission control, not a throttle control like a car.

So, the lever is used to set the "top speed" and the pedal is used to control the speed in the same way as a throttle, even though it is controlling the transmission. Most of the time I just throw the lever all the way forward. When you let off the pedal, since it cuts off the hydraulic flow, the machine stops and all four wheels are essentially locked. So it is like the opposite of a "Neutral" setting, it is an "All Stop."

Olympia, on the other hand, uses a standard automobile automatic transmission. The stick goes through the regular P-R-N-D-2-L gears just like a car. The pedal is a throttle control, just like a car. The augers that move the snow are variable speed, they go faster as the pedal is pushed to increase throttle. They use larger auger blades to handle the fact that some snow might build up when you let off the gas to go around a corner and speed back up when you get back on the gas.

While resurfacing, you put it all the way down into Low gear so the transmission is not trying to shift gears upward and downward while resurfacing. That would get really interesting, and it not a variable you want going on. But, there is some variation. They key to how an automatic transmission works is the torque converter. This link explains how it works.  You really don't notice when you are driving a car, you push the gas and the car goes.

But, if you have ever pulled a heavy trailer or a boat, or just had your car really loaded down, you might have noticed how the engine winds up a bit before the wheels start turning. That is the torque converter winding up enough power before the wheels start. The Olympia goes through a similar process and repeats the process during resurfacing, like when speeding back up after slowing down to go through a turn. I could feel the wind-up a few seconds before the thing speeds back up.

Well, on one particular pass, while shaving fairly deeply, I experienced this. Or, so I thought. It was not so much the transmission as it was I had totally clogged the conditioner with snow to the point that the augers would not turn. I bogged down and the wheels were spinning on the ice, studded tires and all, digging down into the ice. I gave it more gas because I just thought it was the transmission. I mentioned before, I am "at one" with a Zamboni, sort of a Zen thing. Not so much with the Olympia, yet.

It took me a few moments before I realized what was happening. Also, as I was sitting in one place, the water was flowing. Water flowing and machine not moving is bad. the water can burn straight through to concrete and I was fumbling with the levers to get it shut off. Lucky for me, I did get the water shut off and the tires did not cut all the way down to the ice paint.

Phew! I got really lucky. I limped the snow-stuffed Olympia off the ice and finished the cut with the Zamboni. This would be no problem, right?


I went out with the Zam and began cleaning up the slush piles I left from the Olympia. Fat, dumb, and happy, things were going great. Then, the motor began to stall. Out of propane. No problem, this happens. It's why there are two propane tanks. One runs out, you throw a switch and draw off the other tank. I confidently threw the switch and "vroom" the engine started back up.

Then it died. BOTH tanks were empty. Apparently the crew guys who had been flooding the night before ran out of gas, switched to the other tank, but never replaced the one that was empty. They left me in the lurch. HOWEVER, I do not blame them. I should have done my full pre-use inspection of the Zamboni. I had not done the full inspection because I was using the Olympia. My fault that I ran out of gas on the ice.

But, I had the same problem, water burning down to concrete is a concern. Luckily, I was able to shut off the water and raise the conditioner off the ice before I completely stalled. But, even with the water shut off, what is in the pipe still drips and can burn to concrete. Of course, this happened when nobody was around. I ran at break-neck speed down the Cyclones tunnel and grabbed a carpet runner from the hallway and drug it back and laid it out under the conditioner to block the direct-dripping of water.

Then I removed one of the propane tanks and tossed it over into the Cyclones bench. Then I ran back to the garage where, luckily, a full spare tank was available. They are typically kept outside in a locked cage, but there was a spare inside. Then I ran with it out to the ice, set it down on the ice, and ran pushing it to the Zamboni where I could hook it up and get going again. 

The machine started right up and I began cleaning up the new mess from the stalled Zamboni. Of course, just as I had everything under the control, help arrived. Murphy's Law, eh?

The cut was finished and the ice was restored for Cyclones use for last weekend's games.

Up next, Olympia blade replacement, adjustment, and machine use for NCAA prep.