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.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Olympia Preparation

Hi All,

When the Olympia machine shipped, it was not quite ready-to-roll. The shaving blade was bad. It was dull and had a couple of huge nicks in it that showed up as scars on the ice. We used it for flooding water for the ice-in after the circus. That was especially nice to run the two machines simultaneously flooding.

As the thickness built, the system was not able to quickly freeze the 400 gallons of water dropped by two machines, but I was still able to flip back-and-forth between them which was nice. After that kind of flooding, frozen ripples are left all over the ice where different passes froze. Since you are not shaving while leaving water, the ripples can get pretty bad. Mostly, the next coat runs off the high spots, so it is not too bad.

But, before anyone skates on it, a leveling process is undertaken with the resurfacer/s shaving the ice. We run cross-cuts, spot patterns targeting high spots, and figure-8 patterns. This gets it back to one fairly even sheet without the ripples. Then a normal pattern cut makes the ice skate-able. I used the Olympia for some of the leveling, despite the gouge from the blade.

It let me start to get familiar with the Olympia and how it behaves. I used it for early leveling cuts and then switched to the Zamboni to finish the job and take out the gouges. Well, that was the plan but things got a little interesting and the changeover was not so smooth. But, this seems like to good time for a cliffhanger.

Stay tuned for more on my merry adventure and how I averted a near-disaster on our brand new sheet of ice.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Olympia Experiment

I've been in the Zamboni tribe my whole career. I've driven 1960's and 1970's era model HDB machines and 1980's to now's 500-series models. But, if you were not aware, Zamboni is not the only ice resurfacing machine on the market. They were the first, but there are others. Their biggest competitor is the Olympia ice resurfacer from Resurfice Corporation in Ontario, Canada.

We began a business relationship with Ray Lafond of LSK Enterprises in Virginia Beach, Virginia last summer. The place we used to send our machine to for preventative maintenance and repairs unexpectedly closed. Qualified resurfacer mechanics, who really, truly, understand the ins-and-outs of the machines are hard to find. Ray bailed us out; he actually came to US Bank Arena with his mobile repair van and did all the PM's and some significant upgrades on our Zamboni model 520.

Ray is an old-school guy. Very cool. Very knowledgable. He understands both the science and the art of ice making. Ray is also a dealer for Olympia machines.

We talked to him about our upcoming NCAA Regional event, and the need to have two working resurfacers. He assessed our old model HDB machine. He agreed that they were the best resurfacing machines ever produced, but he also agreed that our Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang is too far gone to restore in a cost-effective manner. He said he would have an Olympia machine available for us to rent for the NCAA event.

This is huge for us. We got the machine for 30 days, beginning March 17. That gives us time to use it and get familiar with it before NCAA, have it to cut out the NCAA ice paint to restore the Cyclones surface, and also use it for a few Cyclones games.

I have now used this machine for a few days. It is very different from a Zamboni resurface. Since I have been content-starved on the blog, I will chronicle my adventures with the Olympia machine over the coming weeks.

Stay tuned!


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Ice Follies of March 1, 2014

It has been a long time since I have posted. Too long. But I have had a shortage of topics to motivate me to write. The night of March 1, 2014 definitely gave me material! If you were there, you had to have noticed that besides the ice being pink for Pink In The Rink night, there were some issues.

At the end of the day, this is life in a multi-use arena; and arenas have to be multi-use to survive. And so it goes.

Let's start with the pink ice. Prior posts have addressed it in detail but I will recap. First the ice has to be shaved to near perfectly smooth, as the pink will sink into skate marks and be harder to get out. This takes some depth off the ice. Ideally we flood a little in the days before to add the depth that will be removed. Then the pink is sprayed on through the barrel/cart/pump/wand system. 8 oz. of resin mix per 100 gallons of water is all it takes. The pink goes down then clear water on top through the wand - enough at least that water from the Zamboni does not melt the pink and float it to the surface. Then Zam water to get about 1/4 inch above the pink so we can play a hockey game and have enough depth to safely shave for good ice.

Ideal ice depth is 7/8 inch, although ours is deeper in some spots. Adding 1/4 inch to that adds almost 30% to the total mass that has to be kept frozen. The compressors have to work much harder to maintain the ice even under ideal conditions. Ice itself is an insulator; one inch if ice has about the same insulating qualities as one inch of fiberglass insulation. So even with the compressors operating at peak, the top ice surface will still be a little warmer and softer than normal - even under ideal conditions.

But this night, conditions were far from ideal. Because of some contractual obligations for the Eagles concert on March 4, we had to keep the building warmer than usual. Factor in the crowd of over 7,000 and more body heat and moisture from breathing was injected into the building. So, we did not have ideal conditions. It was hot and the ice was soft.

The normal ice making response for this problem is to cut as deep as the blade and the snow tank capacity will allow, while dropping minimal water onto the ice. The problem is that even knowing we stayed all night Friday night flooding over the pink, there is always this fear of cutting down to the pink. It would be dangerous for the skaters to hit patches of pink resin. But, not shaving super deep, the lighter water flow made all the imperfections in the ice stand out.

I could not risk flooding too deep because it would not freeze. You saw, there were still some wet patches, especially in the third period. Ice surface temperature was 17 degrees before the game. It went up to 24 by the first intermission and 27 by the second. Clearly, I was fighting a losing battle.

Another side effect of rapid ice temperature changes is stress cracks, particularly along the dasher boards. It is a fairly normal occurrence as water expands when it freezes and the whole sheet expands and contracts slightly with temperature changes. But along the dashers it is most problematic because it is the end of the sheet so it can pop out in small sections.

This is why other crew members sometimes go around the outside of the ice during intermission, checking for pops and filling in with snow then freezing with water. So, on this night of Folly, during the second intermission I decided to start the pattern about one Zam width inward and go around the boards last, this way the guys would fill any spots and I would not have to use time to go back over the same spot.

Well, turns out they got it done while the little kids played the exhibition match at intermission and there were not too many spots, but I did not want to deviate from the plan because everyone on the ice was made aware of the change.

And then, my little swirling buddy Twister had to get in on the act. As I rounded the north-west corner of the ice, he threw a pink rally towel over the glass. Well, he tried to. It went under the Zam. I only caught a glimpse of it and was not sure what I saw. A driver has two choices when that happens, and it is important that he commit to his action:

1) IF, and ONLY IF, he can get the conveyors off and the conditioner raised before the object gets there, then that should be done. Shut down the conveyors, raise the conditioner, turn off the water, and let somebody go get the debris out before the Zam goes back.

2) If you can't be sure to get everything stopped before the object enters the conditioner, then it is best to let it go. Slowing things down might actually increase the chances of it getting stuck. Keeping everything moving at normal speed is the next best thing to shutting down so it has the power and momentum to go all the way through.

This is what I did. I felt the go through with quite a rattle and a thud, but was sure it went all the way through because of how the show tank shook. Also I could tell I was still moving snow through the conditioners and into the snow tank. When I got to the east end, however, everyone was signaling me to shut down because of it.

I did, since they were so adamant, but when we were able to chat briefly, I assured them it had gone through and I was going back to pick up the crap I left and get off the ice.

That cut was ugly enough, due to the above reasons, and I wanted to get off the ice!

It just could not have been helped. An odd paradox of not being able to employ the best practices for good ice. But, both teams have to play on the same surface and our Cyclones made a stunning comeback and shoot-out victory, so I'll take it!

We melted the snow in the dumping area and found the towel. Like the brave women it represents, this towel is a survivor! It had a couple of small tears but it survived.

Saturday night, crews stayed to dry-shave the ice until all the pink paint was removed. This was finished at about 3:00 AM. Then the building was changed over for the Eagles concert on Monday. This included removal of all the glass and the dasher boards around the east end of the rink. Then Tuesday the pro-deck was removed, the dashers and glass were replaced, and we are now flooding the ice back up to the proper depth of 7/8 inch.

I hope you enjoyed this babble. If you have any questions, please ask. Give me some content!