By Tina Comeau
Outside the temperature is 23 degrees Celsius. It’s ideal beach weather.
It’s hot. The sun is shining. It’s still a few weeks before the kids are back in school.
But inside the Mariners Centre the staff is waiting for the temperature to drop. The colder the better. Eighteen degrees is a target, but they’re talking Fahrenheit. In other words, a balmy minus 7.7 degrees Celsius.
It is when the concrete floor in Arena 1 reaches this temperature that the staff can begin the process of making ice for the upcoming hockey and skating season.
It is mid-August, after all.
Time’s a wasting.
Before the first flood of water comes spilling out from the Zamboni, the prep work has begun. Arena employee Geoff Baker has made several passes with the floor scrubber making sure there is no dirt, no gum, no residue on the floor. It is important that the concrete surface be pristine so the water, eventually to become ice, bonds well with the surface.
As this scrubbing takes place the brine – a calcium chloride, cold saltwater mixture – is doing its job. You can’t see it, but embedded in the concrete floor of the arena is just under 20 kilometres of piping that circulates the brine to cool the floor. The one-inch pipes are spaced just seven centimetres apart.
The intention had been to put down some Zamboni floods and start the whitewashing around 10 a.m. on Aug. 12, but the temperature of the floor hadn’t hit that magical number yet. And so the staff waits. Finally at 6 p.m. it’s a go. Arena employee Rick Clayton starts the flooding process.
The first coat of water to hit the concrete surface is actually hot. Clayton says this is to “shock the floor” to help with the bonding process. This first flood is following by a second. A third. A fourth. Each flood creating a razor thin layer of ice.
Whitewashing is the next step in the process and it starts at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 13. Clayton notes as the whitewashing process takes place you immediately start to notice a difference in the brightness of the building. “The light reflects off of it,” he says.
Like all of the steps for making ice, this one has gone through much fine-tuning over the years.
“We used to have a 45-gallon barrel, a sump pump and a garden hose. It took hours,” says Baker. “Hours.”
Nowadays the arena staff uses a three-metre-wide aerated rack, mounted on a forklift that is driven backwards around the ice surface. The whitewash is sprayed through the rack. It freezes within seconds of hitting the ice as the greyish-brown concrete floor underneath fades from view.
After the whitewashing there is more flooding.
From start to finish there will be about 35 floods of 150 gallons of water – for around 5,250 gallons, or 19,880 litres of water, in total. Given the number of floods, you’d expect the ice to be quite thick when the process is over.
“It’s three-quarters of an inch to an inch thick,” says Baker, holding his thumb and index finger apart.
On Thursday morning, Aug. 14, the lines, circles and goalie creases are applied. Different from the sound of the Zamboni and the forklift from before, this work is quiet. Eerily quiet.
Almost pin-drop quiet in your mind.
The line at centre ice is a mesh line laid onto the ice but the others are hand painted.
It is hard on the knees. It is hard on the back.
And you can almost imagine hearing the voice of an elementary school teacher saying, “Stay between the lines,” as the red and blue paint is applied within a measured width.
Fortunately, unlike years ago, the logos do not have to be hand-painted onto the ice. They too are created on mesh that is laid onto the surface, to be buried under layers of ice.
“Painting the logos used to be a two-or-more-day process to get through on your hands and knees. Now it’s a couple of hours,” says Baker. “It’s a lot easier.”
Even the centre-ice Mariners logo used to be hand painted. Now it is made up of 22 strips of mesh that are pieced together like a puzzle. Or a spelling test.
Baker and Clayton laugh as they think back to how ice making used to be done, particularly in the old arena. The word ‘farce’ springs to mind when Clayton talks about one method that was tried. Now the ice making is a perfect science that sees a bit of tweaking each year.
It’s like the old adage, practice makes perfect.
If you add up the years of experience the staff at the Mariners Centre has when it comes to making ice, you’re almost zeroing in on 100 years.
During the 2013-14 ice season at the Mariners Centre, there were around 3,757 hours of ice time registered by about 140 ice users ranging from teams, organizations, groups and schools, to individuals booking the ice for pick-up hockey or birthday parties. Users varied from World Junior A Challenge players hoping to get scouted by an NHL, pro or college hockey team; to minor hockey kids living the dream, to toddlers – future hockey players, perhaps? – learning to skate.
As the ice is being made there are no people in the stands. No stinky hockey gear being pulled in bags to the dressing rooms.
This will change soon enough.
Before August ends there are hockey schools taking place and the Mariners training camp will get underway. By early September there will be junior A exhibition games held around the same time the minor hockey association begins tryouts for its rep teams. Before those tryouts end the Mariners season will be in full swing. People will rent the ice for pick-up hockey. There will be public skating. Parents will bring their little ones here to learn how to skate. The Yarmouth Skating Club and CanSkate programs will begin.
For the users of the facility there is a sense of anticipation and excitement when the ice is put back into the Mariners Centre.
Baker, however, sees the return of the ice as signifying something else.
“It’s the end of summer,” he says.
Well, not quite, although it will be by the time the ice is put into Arena 2.
After all, there won’t be many people going to the beach in early October.
You can also view a time lapse video of the ice making process, which was filmed by Nick Doucet of the Mariners Centre MC Media crew. You can visit the link at http://vimeo.com/marinersmedia/timelapse. The video was sped up 6000% from real time.