Ice Making 101

Chasing Checkers had the pleasure of meeting Jerry Womack, the Assistant Director of Engineering at the arena.  He walked me through the process from start to finish of how they make the ice, and all that goes into taking it in and out.

With the first game just around the corner, the ice technicians at Time Warner Cable Arena have been hard at work this week putting down the ice for the first time this season.  What begins with a clean cement floor turns into an ice surface a little over an inch thick. It’s a 36 hour long process, that takes place around the clock.

The process began on Monday morning with them cooling the entire building down to 60-65 degrees.  Then, they turn on the CIMCO chiller which is connected to pipes under the cement floor.  The pipes are a few inches apart and run across the width of the ice, zig-zaging their way over the entire length of the surface.  The pipes are filled with a brine solution because the salt water won’t freeze, whereas water would.  Once the floor begins to frost, at about 23 degrees, it’s ready for ice.

Ice Technicians at TWCA install the ice surface

The ice technicians use a large wand with cold water and mist over the cement floor and build up a sealcoat, which simply seals the concrete.  After this is applied, the entire surface is painted white.  The paint comes in a powder form, and is mixed with water.  It’s made with potato starch and is therefore completely biodegradable.  The biodegradable element is crucial because when the ice is removed, 15-20,000 gallons of melted ice has to be disposed of in an environmentally responsible way.

White paint comes in a powder form and is mixed with water in a container that's about 5' tall. It takes nine boxes to cover the ice surface.

Another sealcoat is laid down over the white paint, and then the lines and official markings can be placed onto the ice.  At this point, the ice is less than 1/4″ thick.

Again, the red and blue paint (two shades, one for the blue lines, and another lighter shade for the goal crease) is made from potato starch.  The painted lines are once again misted over to seal the paint onto the ice, which will enable people to walk on the ice and not pick up bits of paint on their shoes.

I asked how they make such perfectly straight lines, and as a knitter, was excited to learn that they use red and blue yarn.  It is stretched tightly across the ice, and they paint in between the two pieces, and can even leave the yarn in the ice for the course of the season.  This is just further evidence that knitting and hockey CAN go together!

The logos, sponsors and writing are placed next.  They are printed on a mesh material that is laid onto the ice and then sealed over with more water and ice.  In the past, these logos were hand painted, but the mesh logos are faster especially when there is a time constraint.

After all logos are installed, the ice crew works around the clock misting the surface.  Three or four people will work through the day and night to build up the surface slowly until it reaches optimal thickness.

The ice surface is only removed once during the course of the season, for the circus in January.  Concerts and basketball games are all done on top of the ice surface, with a layer of ice deck boards placed directly on the ice surface.

This season, the NHL game on September 25 will be played, and then the ice technicians will prepare the surface for the Disney on Ice show.  The boards, glass and nets will all be removed, and the surface it built up even more, including an additional white coat of paint to cover up the hockey markings for the theatrical show.  After the figure skating show is over, the ice technicians will shave down layers of ice to expose the hockey surface again in time for opening night on October 15.

Making ice in a Southern climate like Charlotte is full of challenges our Northern AHL cities don’t have.  Humidity is incredibly bad for the ice, and TWCA is equipped with extra dehumidifiers to combat this.  When you have a sell out crowd, and doors open to the outside during a warm month like September, interior temperture goes up drastically which can be harmful to the ice surface.  The variables are always changing, but Charlotte has an incredibly experienced crew of technicians, and have created a surface that is considered to be one of the best in the league, which is something all Checkers fans should be proud of!

Stay tuned for part two…. all about the equipment used to maintain the surface!


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