When the Tri-City Americans arrive Thursday for training camp, they will be greeted by a fresh sheet of ice.
What they don’t know is that sheet of ice should be some of the best home ice Americans players have skated on in 20 years, after a $120,000 overhaul to the piping system that pumps the coolant under the concrete floor of Toyota Center.
“It obviously needed to be done,” Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. “You hope that gives us better ice and takes away some of the hot spots. It’s a start.”
While taking out the entire concrete floor and redoing the entire system would be a lengthy and costly project, the pipes that hold the saltwater brine were replaced, as were the warming pipes that melt the sheet of ice after the hockey season is over.
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“Those pipes have been in there a long time (since the building was constructed in 1988),” Tory said. “They were corroded and old.”
Despite its flaws, veteran defenseman Parker Wotherspoon still loves to play on home ice, but he is excited to see how the upgrades have improved the ice.
“You want a building everyone wants to play in,” said Wotherspoon, who said his favorite road rink is Prospera Place in Kelowna, British Columbia. “Our home ice is not as fast as other places, but we have upgraded rink boards that move, and many of the rinks don’t have that.”
Tri-City forward Jordan Topping said he hopes for good things with the improvements.
“Days when we play back-to-back, or there is a concert and we play the next day, it’s a little rough,” Topping said. “I think every rink has its ups and downs. It’s nice to get some upgrades, for sure. I think all the guys like playing at home, and it doesn’t factor in too much for us, but it’s nice to know when we get back there, it will be that much better.”
The three-week project was done by Central Washington Refrigeration of Yakima, with help from Toyota Center staff and local pipe fitters.
Corey Pearson, the Three Rivers campus executive director, and Rob Gierke, the campus director of operations, worked on making the project come to fruition.
“It’s not that it wasn’t working, but it was outdated,” Gierke said of the system. “Right after the season was over, we started talking about it (the project) to the city. We all agreed it needed to be done.”
Not knowing what previous management had done, Gierke said he did his research.
“We couldn’t find that they had never been changed,” Gierke said of the pipes. “We came to the conclusion that it should be done. We are good for another 15 years.”
The pipes, which run along the Zamboni entrance end of the building and partway around each corner, were removed, allowing staff to be able to clean out years of gunk and grime in the concrete trench below the pipes.
That project wasn’t possible with the large pipes and the connections to the brine lines that run under the concrete floor.
Once cleanup was done, the new pipes were installed — blue for cool and red for warm.
“Everything is new,” said Larry Risley, a service technician for Central Washington Refrigeration. “We have all new headers, all new cooling pipes. What they had was doing its job, but it was inefficient. We should get more efficiency out of it, especially with maintenance.”
The large cooling pipes are connected to the smaller brine pipes that run beneath the floor — all 52,000 feet. During the season, the system pumps 2,000 gallons of brine through the pipes to keep the ice just right.
Toyota Center ice technician Frankie Brazil said two improvements should be seen immediately once the ice is installed.
“Better flow will make it more cost efficient,” he said. “With the circulation (of the brine) moving more smoothly, it should keep (the ice) cooler. We will have the best ice this year since the building was built.”