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The ice is in for hockey season

By - Sep 03, 2017

 By Liesl Babicka/For The Sporting Nation


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona isn’t exactly known for its cold weather, snowfall or even hearing comments like, “The weather is perfect right now.” In the beginning of September, the average temperature hangs around 102 degrees.

Around the country, states are leaving the summer heat and entering the fall breezes. Not Arizona.

The last thing on the minds of Arizonans is how to freeze water in a large amount of space and keep it frozen for seven months.

But don’t fret, the Arizona Coyotes have the whole process figured out. The team installed the ice rink for the upcoming NHL season early Sunday morning.

Gila River Arena is a multipurpose arena used for hockey, concerts, bull riding and even basketball. When attending Coyotes’ games, fans usually don’t think about how the ice gets there, as the rink is already completed by the time of their first arrival.

“It means a beginning of a new season, we started preparing for this in June, we’ve done a few upgrades to the ice plan,” said director of operations Sean Langer.

The ice installation process begins four days before the Coyotes’ rookies report to camp, almost two weeks before veterans return to the ice.

“Three days ago, we started bringing down the floor temperature in two degrees increments to bring it down to about 12 degrees,” Langer said.

Gila River Arena must be at 55 degrees and cold purified water is then applied throughout the flooring.

The water that is spread across the flooring is purified to help make the white paint more defined and bright.

However, the water is not kept cold for long. After a thickness of ice is formed, the water is turned up to 145 degrees, eliminating bubbles and extra air to strengthen the ice.

Throughout the entire installation there are 10,500 gallons of water used to make the ice perfect. A small portion of the water is mixed with powdered white paint to spray paint across the floor.

Overall, there are 500 gallons of white powdered paint used, as well as eight gallons of white paint to make the lines and markings in the ice.

After the base coat of water is sprayed over the flooring, an additional layer is painted, followed by two coats of water.

“There isn’t as much painting as there was back when I was here four years ago,” said operations manager Bill Butterfield. “It’s because a lot of the logos are mesh, so they get sprayed into the ice.”

Strings of yarn are frozen into the ice, serving as guides for painters to create the blue, red and goal lines. The logos in the ice, however, are not painted on. Instead, they use mesh logos, which are laid on the ice and subsequently covered in another layer of ice.

Once these steps are accomplished, the ice is flooded a final time to reach the one inch to 1 3/8 inches that is required for each home game.

This process isn’t an overnight finish. Rather, it takes approximately 36 work hours for the ice to be completed and ready to be skated on. According to Butterfield the process isn’t difficult, just time-consuming.

The Arizona weather isn’t always tamable, but the workers try their best to keep the ice as well maintained as possible.

“Every environment has its own challenges, here we are pretty dry so dehydration is a problem,” said ice technician Pat Schuler.

To the surprise of many the ice doesn’t disappear when other events come into the arena.

“The ice is always in all season, we don’t take it out, we don’t have to redo the whole thing,” commented Schuler.

If ice is ruined during these events it’s a simple fix for the workers to handle. Schuler and his team find the problem and just fix the area that needs to be fixed instead of redoing the entire ice.

Regular-season hockey is fast approaching. It's just over a month away.

Before that, the Coyotes have their first on-ice practice at Gila River Arena on September 15, with their first preseason game on Monday, September 18, against the Los Angeles Kings.

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