Sunday, November 27, 2011

Q&A Answer #2

elvis77 from Section 60 asked:
"Here's an ice related one for you, on Tuesday it wasn't exactly cold out and the building was packed full of screaming kids and the ice looked to still have some wet spots late into each period. How much does the fluctuation in temps the Cincinnati area experiences in the spring and fall effect the ice and do large crowds warm the building as well? Can a random warm day combined with a large crowd create a "perfect storm" of bad/sloppy ice?

It seems that even the local "men's league" rinks can have questionable ice when the temps start fluctuating and it can take a day or so to adjust."

Yes, weather changes can have a huge impact on the ice surface - especially sudden changes. I see the ice as a living, breathing surface. It expands, contracts, moistens, drys, and changes easily. It thrives in a state of equilibrium and it struggles when the equilibrium is disturbed. It reminds me of a Bonzai plant, needing constant grooming and attention.

New modern facilities have a lot of built-in systems to help maintain the balance. They are better insulated, they have dehumidification systems. They have "low emissivity" ceiling membranes to help pull moisture away. They have have an under-ice warming system, below the cold pipes, to keep the ground temperature constant. Older facilities, like US Bank Arena, don't have these added systems.

Even with those amenities, the "bubble" of equilibrium can be disturbed. Sudden ambient temperature increases can cause soft ice until the compressors and air handling systems swing the conditions back into balance. Even a sudden cold snap can dry out the air and cause brittle ice that gets rough quickly and gives up lots of snow.

And then, even if ambient conditions are constant, just introducing a large crowd into the building can upset the balance. Thousands of people bringing in their body heat, and bringing the warm moist air from simply breathing injects heat and humidity into the environment and can change ice conditions. If this happens on a suddenly warm or humid day (even a cold rain can add humidity), then the "perfect storm" scenario definitely applies.

The building engineers have some tricks to help offset the effects. Besides just turning the thermostat up or down, they can manipulate the air handling direction, etc. Sometimes they even fire up the bioler and send a flash of hot air into the building so the humidity jumps onboard and flies out when the air is pushed out through air handlers.

The Zamboni driver has to be very aware of the conditions.  When it's warm and/or humid, water delivery control is critical. During games, I try to use the least amount of water possible to nicely glaze the ice. I turn it down in the corners and even turn it off over the goal creases since I go over that area numerous times. If you drive faster, you have to open the water valve more. If you slow down, water must be reduced. Last Tuesday for Education in Hockey day, Drew was driving because I had a conflict. He has good training and does well, but probably was a little heavy on the water delivery.

The water delivery can be difficult because it is totally operator selected. If snow isn't moving through, the operator can hear it and increase RPMs, slow down, etc. But the water just flows and you have to remember proactively to make adjustments.

When the equilibrium is all out of whack, other weaknesses are exposed. The first is over the goal creases. If the water is not turned down there, it will stay wet because the chiller system doesn't have the capacity to freeze it while dealing with the added stress.  Also, the brine return goes out of the rink in the area of the home player bench at US Bank Arena.  It enters the rink between the visitor bench and the goal line, so it's the coldest right there. Then it snakes its way through pipes around the rink surface to the area of the home bench.

So, at the end of its path, it is at its warmest because it has already exchanged most of its coldness (technically heat is exchanged and coldness is a perception of less heat), so it has the least freezing capacity there. Throw in the temperature change, the exhaled air from thousands of screaming kids, and then too much water, and you're left with wet spots.

At the local rinks where we play in the amateur leagues, they don't have thousands of spectators but they also have virtually no added air handling ability and they don't have an engineer there on staff just to control the air so they are actually more susceptible to weather changes. They also have a hit-or-miss situation with experienced Zamboni drivers.

Don't get me wrong, there are some very good, very experienced ice guys around town. But the rinks also have some newer, less experienced drivers. Also their training is limited nearly exclusively to "on the job training" and even the more experienced drivers who are training the newbees may know how to do things right themselves but they may not be the best communicators or trainers.

As you can see, it's not like just starting up the lawn mower and running a pattern.

Thanks for asking, Elvis. Keep those questions coming! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Q&A Answer #1

Please keep the questions coming! I have a quick one I will answer right now and two great questions from Section 60 that I'm working on that will be longer.

Auntie Sue asked:
"Interesting explanation of intermission ice repair! Here's my question: Does it drive you crazy when the goalies come out and immediately make a mess of your freshly resurfaced crease?

Interesting question, but it does not  bother me at all. Actually the same could be said for all the skaters who come out and mess up the fresh ice - but that's the game. Turning the water down or even off over the creases is an important thing that I do. It is more of a pride thing that I want the goalie to leave the building thinking they had great ice. If they are scratching off their crease and there is no water splashing, then I'm a happy Guido.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Ice for 2011-12

I have to admit that I'm struggling for material. I'm open to questions. Some Q&A may make for good blog posts.

I can write a little about the ice so far, and some real-life aspects to ice cuts during games.

The ice is really good so far. Drew and the boys used the misting wand for much of the original depth, rather than jumping on with the Zamboni as soon as it is thick enough. The atomizers create thinner layers that blend better and freeze more clearly than the thicker sauce left by the Zamboni. This is the best ice base I have seen since the return of the Cyclones in 2006.

The game cuts for Friday 11/18 went fairly well. There is always this sort of conflict with the on-ice productions at intermission and the resurfacing. The marketing folks take the intermission promotions very seriously. It is a way to energize the whole arena and to involve some real fans for an unforgettable experience. A good Emcee, like Smitty aka "DJ Mitts" can really carry the crowd and make for a very professional experience.

I don't discount that at all. But selfishly, my mission is to make the ice surface the best that it can possibly be, doing my little part to help the team win. There is also a pride factor. I want the visiting players and the officials to walk away saying "man, the ice in Cincinnati is the best in the league." At the very least, I want them neutral and to at least not notice. It kills me when I know they leave thinking the ice sucked. And finally, the league expects the Zamboni off the ice with 5:00 remaining in intermission to allow for drying(freezing).  Now, honestly, we go past that often and they've never said a word. It's not something they hawkishly watch.

7 minutes is a bare minimum for an acceptable cut. Really 8 is better. I can't do it in much less than 7 because the Zamboni can only go 9 mph max and I have to slow down in turns. That leaves all my attention to driving without crashing and no time for allowances in blade depth, water control, etc. Also when driving at break-neck speed the recirculating Wash Water does not work at full efficiency.

Do the math. I have to be on the ice and moving along the boards with 12:00 minutes to be finished at the 5:00 mark. To have my full 8 minutes I have to be resurfacing by 13:00 left, which really means getting onto the ice by about 13:20. That never happens, does it?

The answer? Well, there really isn't one. I have been to NHL games and their on-ice promotions are extremely short. Like 2-3 minutes. Just a quick on-and-off. Then they hit the ice with 2 Zamboni ice resurfacers so they can cut deeper, removing more snow, leaving better ice, in just over half the time. But that is the NHL. Down here in the minors, simply put, that ain't happening.

I say the ice is critical. Without ice, we don't have hockey. The marketing folks would be quick to remind me that without fans, we don't have hockey either. In the end, we at US Bank Arena and the Cyclones work very hard to find balance. I think we're mostly successful. I have no reference to other arenas in the pro world, but I think we have a good thing going.

And, when all else fails, when I'm bearing down the ice with 8600 pounds of the coolest machine on earth, people get out of my way! ha.

Questions, people, questions!!