Creating a sheet of ice for a hockey rink is not rocket science, but it doesn’t hurt if you can channel your inner Betty Crocker and Pablo Picasso.
That shiny surface littered with colorful logos is always there when the players need it, and fans don’t give it a second thought. But from bare concrete to game-day ready, there is a tedious process that goes into making a masterpiece that will endure an entire season of practices and games.
The ice crew at Toyota Center spent nearly five days this past week installing a bright white sheet of ice for the Tri-City Americans’ upcoming season, their 27th in the Western Hockey League.
“It is pretty easy once you know what you are doing,” said Frankie Brazil, who has made ice at Toyota Center since 2006. “It just takes a long time. You spend a lot of time waiting for water to freeze.”
You can liken it to watching the grass grow and paint dry — which also is part of the process.
It all starts with a clean surface. Then it’s time to cool the building and turn on the compressors, which run for an entire weekend to make sure the concrete floor is cold enough. Not just cool to the touch, but a “stick your tongue to a metal pole and can’t get it off” cold. Let’s call that 16 degrees.
The cooling coils beneath the concrete floor are similar to a radiator, winding back and forth. When the far right end of the rink takes longer to freeze the ice, it’s because the coils under that area of the concrete are the farthest from the start of the tubing, and it takes longer for the coolant to get to the corner.
With the outside temperature in the 90s, it’s important to keep the ice surface cold. That’s done with a thermostat that’s attached to the ceiling of the building and uses a laser beam to measure the ice temperature.
“(The compressor) knows when to come on,” said Brazil, who noted the ice temperature is kept at 21 degrees during the season. “We have that camera pointing down on the ice, and that helps regulate the temperature with an infrared laser beam.”
Once the prep work is done, it’s time to get out the hose. Then you attach it to a mister and slowly make your way around the rink — all 17,000 square feet of it — while the rest of your crew keeps the hose off the ground.
Brazil and his crew laid three fine layers of water on the concrete to form a bond and prep it for the paint.
Yes, paint. This isn’t a “just add water” sheet of ice. For those who don’t know, the ice surface is painted white.
This is where your culinary skills come into play.
For each layer of paint applied to the surface, the crew mixes three 40-pound bags of a premixed recipe of chalk and powdered milk with water and applies it with a fine mist sprayer. Each of these mixtures also takes 80 gallons of water.
Chalk and powdered milk to paint ice? It’s the right color, and it’s eco-friendly when the ice is melted at the end of the season and the water drains into the city’s sewer system.
Three more thin coats of water are applied over the paint, making sure not to drag the hose through the blank canvas that soon will be home to colorful lines and logos.
Once the final layer of water has set, the surface is a mere eighth of an inch thick.
Now it’s time to get out the paint and get to work.
This past week, crew member Breyanna Hagan of Kennewick sat on a piece of cardboard for hours with a bucket of red paint and a brush, creating 116 stars that help make up the center red line this season.
Some workers painted the goalie creases light blue, and others created the face-off circles and blue lines. Once the painting was complete, each area got several layers of water from a hand mister to protect the work.
On to the logos. These all used to be painted by hand, and up until last year, the Americans’ main logo still was done by hand. But there is a better way.
A company called Jet Ice creates logos to be used on ice surfaces, and this cuts down on time.
Each logo is created out of a thin mesh nylon material that allows water to seep through and adhere it to the ice.
The logos cost between $200 and $700, and can last for years if taken care of properly. They pay for themselves in a year or two versus painting the logos by hand every year.
The workers start with one end of a logo, applying water and using a giant squeegee to make sure there are no air bubbles. Once frozen in place, the rest of the logo is applied using water and a squeegee. Once done, several layers of mist are applied.
“It saves a lot of time and money in labor,” Brazil said of using the mesh logos. “Painting the center logo and bars and stars would take 3 1/2 hours. Now it take 30 minutes to apply.”
And it’s easier to replace a logo. When Kennewick General Hospital changed to Trios Health last year, the ice crew was able to change out the logos and build the ice back up, and no one was the wiser.
With everything in place and paint droplets scraped away, the water hose comes out once again, but instead of the mister, the crew “floods” the ice with a thin layer of water, then waits for it to dry.
Water, watch dry, repeat. They will apply up to 14 coats of water until they reach a depth of 1 1/2 inches.
“We usually keep it at 1 1/4 inches or less during the season,” Brazil said. “But with camps and a tournament, we are making it a little thicker to start.”
When it’s all said and done, the sheet of ice, which is 200 feet long and 85 feet wide, will have taken 325 man hours and between 13,000 and 15,000 gallons of water to create.
Makes one appreciate it just a little bit more.
w Annie Fowler: 582-1574; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @TCHIceQueen