Bad Ice, the Consol Energy Center, and Patric Hornqvist by @kjcmalakai - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bad Ice, the Consol Energy Center, and Patric Hornqvist by @kjcmalakai

One of the story lines coming out of Penguins' training camp is the quality of the ice at Consol Energy Center (CEC), or rather continued lack of quality.  While it was initially reported last week that Beau Bennett was injured on a rut in the ice, it was later confirmed that Bennett's heel had in fact been clipped by the skate of Kasperi Kapanen.  Even though it appears that the CEC ice surface wasn't fully to blame for the run of bad lack that continues to plague the health of Bennett, it doesn't change the fact that AEG Facilities, the current organization that manages CEC, still has some work to do to figure out what is going on with the ice surface at the 321 million dollar facility.

Steven Stamkos wipes out during a penalty shot on the Consol Energy Center ice.
Before the inaugural season at CEC in 2010, Jay Roberts of SMG (the facility management company that had run the Mellon Arena before CEC was built) predicted that CEC would have one of the best ice surfaces in the league.  In November of 2010, Dan Craig, known as the NHL ice czar, visited Pittsburgh for a week in order to work out the kinks in the CEC ice.  Being that CEC was a new arena with a crew that had previously worked in a 50 year old building, it was reasonable to expect that some bumps occur along the way to getting the ice surface up to par.  The crew was using a trial and error process in order to determine the best process for creating the ice due to air flow problems in the building.

Creating a rink ice surface isn't as simple as throwing some water on a flat surface and freezing it.
Beneath the floor of NHL arenas is a refrigeration system that is similar to the one pictured above consisting of chillers, steel pipes, and brinewater.  Miles of steel pipe (A) wind underneath CEC and carry brinewater cooled by the chillers to the pipes (B) embedded in the chilled concrete slab (C).  Brinewater is calcium-chloride solution (fancy salt water) that has a much lower freezing point than just plain water.  It is the brinewater that is chilled to a temperature of approximately 16 degrees Fahrenheit that is used to freeze the ice-bearing concrete slab which in turn freezes the skating surface (D).  A layer of insulation (E) rests between the heated concrete (F) and the ice-bearing concrete slab with a sand and gravel base (G) underneath, all of which are essential to prevent expansion and contraction which could crack the the ice skating surface.
The ice surface itself is only about 1" thick.  Any less than that and skates could potentially cut through the ice down to the concrete slab below and any more than that makes it too difficult to maintain the temperature of the ice.  The first two layers of the ice are sprayed onto the surface as a fine mist creating ice surfaces approximately 1/32" of an inch think.  The second of these two layers is painted white to create a background for the painted logos and lines that come later.  A third layer of ice approximately 1/16" is then applied and seals in the second painted layer.  On top of the third layer the painted lines and logos are applied.  Finally, a hose is then used to evenly apply 8-10 more ice layers until the final width of the ice is 1".

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Remember these giant AC units brought in for the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena?
Once the ice surface has been made, controlling the temperature of it is what determines good ice versus bad ice.  Rink managers generally agree that an ice temperature of 24 to 26 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature for good hockey ice.   Too warm, and a skater can lose an edge, too cold and the ice can chip too easily.  In order to keep the ice within this temperature range, larger arenas, on average, are kept at an air temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit with 30% humidity.  External factors, however, such as outside temperature and humidity that is let into the building when fans are entering and exiting, make it so that the ice has to be constantly monitored and adjusted.  Furthermore, once the ice is in place, it generally stays in place unless a special event such as a circus or monster truck rally is using the arena,  This means that when a concert or basketball game is held at CEC during the hockey season, the ice is still in place underneath the floor of the arena.  So if you go to the Fleetwood Mac concert between the October 9th game against the Ducks and the October 16th game against the Stars, the ice will still be in place underneath of the stage.

So is the ice at CEC as bad as has been reported during training camp?  Maybe, and it probably is, but it is hardly unique to CEC.  Most of the ice surfaces in the NHL are similar in quality to CEC and many are worse.  Madison Square Garden (MSG) is well known for having terrible ice.  After seeing what goes into making an ice surface, this shouldn't be a surprise.  MSG is a very large and very old building that hosts many more events than the newer and smaller CEC.  Not surprising (unless you're Gary Bettman), the further south you go, the worse the reputation an arena has for ice.  The reverse is true going north with arenas in the northern latitudes consistently talked about having the best ice.

Of course ice hockey was meant to be played in the desert!

Dan Craig (the ice czar) was again in town last week for an inspection of the CEC ice.  A question that Craig asked of Penguins' Coach Mike Johnston was how ice at the practice facility compared to the ice at CEC.  Johnston acknowledged that the ice at the Iceoplex at Southpointe, the Penguins' practice facility, is "always better" but also recognized that it always will be because of the differences in CEC and the Iceoplex.  Penguins players have also stated that the Iceoplex is less grueling on their bodies, but the ice there does not represent what they will see during an NHL game.  For the reason that ice at CEC is more representative of actual game ice, it is more beneficial (in my opinion) to hold practices at CEC rather than at the Iceoplex.

Patric Hornqvist should thrive on bad ice
CEC is entering its fifth season as the home of the Penguins and AEG still has a way to go to back up the claim (from the previous management firm) that CEC will boast some of the best ice in the league.  Until they do, a Penguins team that is built on speed and precision can not perform at their highest level.  Enter Patric Hornqvist: a player whose reputation for scoring in front of the net is well documented.  It is this type of goal scoring that is needed when ice conditions begin to break down and no longer allow for precision passing and speed.  Other than Chris Kunitz on the top power play unit, the Penguins have been missing this type of player.  Hornqvist is not the world's greatest shooter (the Penguins still have plenty of good shooters) by any stretch of the imagination, but he was brought in to be the type of player that his reputation says he is and that the fanbase was clamoring for: a guy who can park himself at the net and score ugly.  After learning that the ice at CEC is representative of the ice at most NHL arenas, maybe Jim Rutherford, the Penguins' General Manager, knew exactly what he was doing when he traded James Neal for Hornqvist.

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