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.




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