Making Ice in OKC! — “We Bring Ice to Life”

Making Ice for the 2013-14 OKC Barons Season

If you know me at all, you know that I love the nuts and bolts of hockey — everything about it, from how pucks are made, skate blade details, goaltender masks to equipment design. All of it fascinates me! And this week I was able to satisfy a missing piece to my hockey quest – I watched the process of making ice for a hockey rink. And what fun!

Whoever thinks making ice for a hockey rink is a quick process is wrong. Completely wrong! This is not simply a case of flooding an arena with water and calling it done! While it’s certainly not rocket science, it is a complicated, detailed, and very long process, and every person in charge of making ice for a hockey club has their own tricks of the trade. On Monday, I joined the Cox arena ice crew making this season’s ice for the OKC Barons and the entire process was great fun to watch. By the way, I highly encourage all fans to submit your names to the team drawing to participate in this event every year! It is a wonderful team tradition and it gives fans a much better understanding of this crucial behind-the-scenes process.

When we arrived early that morning (with coffee in hand!) the cement base known as the “ice slab” had been chilled to specifications by the “Chiller” (the refrigeration system) used for ice rinks. This system works the same way your refrigerator or air conditioner works, however in this case the “ice slab” is what is being chilled to freezing temperatures. A system of pipes, filled with a brinewater solution, run through the cement slab chilling it to the necessary temperature and once this stage is reached the fun begins!

To create a good skating surface that can withstand a season, the ice must be laid down in very thin layers, around 8 to 10 layers about 1/16th-inch thick, beginning with clear layers, followed by white paint layers. After the thin layers are applied, the lines, circles and faceoff circles are painted, the team logo and sponsor logos fixed in place, and the goalie crease is painted. Once that is complete – all to perfection! – the ice surface is then flooded with additional clear water making the entire ice thickness about 1-inch deep.

The first step is laying down several layers of plain water – at the Cox this is accomplished in a hands-on method with a long horizontal sprayer mechanism (see photos), followed by a crew supporting and moving the water hose to keep up with the lead fellow. Think in terms of “crack the whip” or a “Conga line” and you will get the picture. The crew is continually moving to keep off the freshly sprayed surface, allowing it to freeze, while moving onto the next section. And with each new layer, the direction of application is changed – East to West, North to South, even varying which corner the application begins, therefore it is necessary to a keep written record of the process, to note where you’ve been, and where you are going.

Following the application of about 3 to 4 thin layers of water (and a tasty hot lunch of BBQ served to the crew and hangers-on like us!) the excitement builds among the crew when the 40-pound bags of dry white paint powder is added into the large mixing container and then pumped through the long hose to the sprayer. It’s a messy process, as indicated by the laughter, splatters and splashes as the mixer is turned on. To give you a better idea — it’s like a large kitchen mixer that splashes cake batter on you if you’ve turned the mixer on too high – and even with a heavy lid this mixer manages to splash a bit of the white paint out onto the floor and surrounding crew!

Don’t be fooled! This is not your average ordinary white paint! This is “Jet Ice” which proclaims “We Bring Ice to Life” – and if there are any questions about it, it says right on the side that this is the “Preferred Rink Equipment Provider of the NHL.” The moment the white paint layer begins to cover the frozen slab, the arena brightens very rapidly as the ceiling lights are reflected off the white surface, and increases as the white layers are applied.

Believe it or not, the next stage involves string! The lines, logos, and goal crease placement are all dictated by AHL rules and regulations, which provide spacing and dimensions for ice rinks (see the official AHL diagrams in the photos). In order to find center of the rink, the crews work off the two sets of goal post holes and configure the lines using string. Rink boards are not always even, so measurements are based off the goalie posts to make the inner rink measurements accurate. The string is then “frozen” to the surface acting as guidelines for the line painting. Once the center of the ice is determined, a stick with a marker attached to the end is tied to a string attached to the center of the ice and a fellow “walks” the stick-marker around in a circle – a human-scale compass of sorts. This provides the location for the center ice logo layout. If the strings are off by any amount, they are pulled up, re-measured and re-frozen.

By this point most of a day had passed and sadly I had to depart not long after 4pm, before the actual painting started, however Baron’s photographer Steven Christie documented the entire process and his photographs show how the painting process is accomplished. Perhaps I will be able to return in February when they do this all over again just to watch the painting portion of the process – and perhaps I can beg to paint a goalie crease? The Cox Center Arena ice is removed in February every season for a gymnastics event and then reapplied to continue the Barons season. Perhaps by that point the team will also want a penny or two set into the goal crease? To pass along good luck for the playoffs? Come on Barons! Let’s do this!


Thanks to the Cox Arena Ice Crew for letting us join them on Monday and for patiently answering all of my questions! Thanks also to Josh, Cassie, and Steven as well! It was such a fun day.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Hockey Team Dynamics

Detroit Red Wings vs Nashville Predators (Dec. 15, 2011) Photo: Patricia Teter. All Rights Reserved.
Detroit Red Wings vs Nashville Predators (Dec. 15, 2011) Photo: Patricia Teter. All Rights Reserved.

Games are often won and lost before a team steps on the ice Barry Smith, Director of Player Development with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Team Dynamics – definition: The behavioral relationship between members of a group that are assigned connected tasks within an organization. Dynamics are affected by roles, responsibilities and interaction, and have a direct result on productivity – i.e. how a team reacts, behaves and performs.


Every game night we sit on our cold perches inside arenas, or in the comfort of our own homes in armchairs, recliners or couches and critique the games we watch – a coterie of Armchair GMs or Armchair Coaches. It always seems so easy. As a group, Armchair Coaches can be a delusional lot — over estimating, over emphasizing any credit or penalties to our own teams. This seems fairly easy, but let’s be honest with ourselves – in reality, professional hockey is a complex dynamic.

Teams can falter, and often do, on their way through a season – and sadly for many fans not all teams make it into the playoffs. It is the nebulous and ever changing elements that confound us, amaze us and make us fall into the depths of despair; and teams themselves fall into this same trap. It’s human nature. That is why team dynamics are fascinating and that is also why it is sometimes difficult to judge a particular player’s performance on only one team.

Team dynamics are influenced by numerous factors – the team’s management, the entire organization itself, the individuals on any given team, their roles and interaction, as well as the identity of a team, both current and historical. The other day a coach talked about his team after a particularly bad game – he said he knew the team was probably in for a rough night when the team was so quiet in the locker room prior to the game. Were there signs of this in practice earlier in the day? Did this just suddenly appear, or had it been brewing for some time. It is interesting how a team can as a group either fall or rise to the same level.

Fine tuning team dynamics is a delicate balance and what works for one team, will not necessarily work for another. It is all in the tinkering; the evaluation and looking thoroughly at each piece in the multidimensional puzzle. Sometimes it is perfectly obvious, other times it is a complete mystery until that element is either eliminated or changed in some manner.

Many elements can go wrong or askew within a team’s dynamics. A number of teams this season fall into that category and there have been games where players sit on the bench waiting for the game to begin, clearly wishing they were elsewhere, anywhere else, and the pain, humiliation and defeat clearly evident in their eyes even before the first puck is dropped. It is truly disheartening to see a team in this conundrum.

How does a team turnaround from such an ominous cloud? How does a team revitalize itself? Sometimes all it takes is something new tossed into the mix – a bit of inspiration, a kick in the butt, a new player or two, a new line change here and there, or a new coach. All of these changes have made huge impacts on teams in the past. Sometimes all a particular game requires is a goal, a line mix-up, a goalie being pulled, or even a fight to change the downward spiral. Other times, the problem is far too complex to be cured so quickly and easily.

A particular team I follow – who has experienced a horribly rough season — had lately lost all of their spirit and enjoyment of the game. Their last game was one of heartbreaking despair – a crushing defeat that seemed to be the final straw. The turnover of coaches and players had been rampant throughout the season, and it seemed as if there was no team identity left to salvage. You could see this with every game as the season advanced into December and then January. There was a general feeling of “what’s the point?” which can swoop in and sting any team given the opportunity, but the other night something miraculous happened.

As they came out onto the ice there was a bounce in their step, a rejuvenation of energy and spirit. The first period was astonishing. This team played with a sense of pride I had not seen since the early days of the season. And why? A new coach had been tossed into the mix – yes another! – a coach who was able to provide the team with a new vision, a new plan of battle, a new sense of energy to rebuild their individual self-esteem and respect for each other – and the team bought into those plans! You could clearly see all of those elements out on the ice.  And yes, that team, with their newly rediscovered swagger, won that night. I hope they celebrated with as much vivacity and joy as Nail Yakupov did on his game tying goal the other night in Edmonton. They truly deserved it.

As we watch the remainder of this season, keep in mind Barry Smith’s quote — Games are often won and lost before a team steps on the ice. Most of us do not even consider this as a possibility. We are far too focused on whether the defense is doing their job, whether the goaltenders are making those basic saves, wondering if the 3rd line will step up and score, and planning the next team trade. But we also need to remember that the game of hockey – a team sport – is far, far more complex than that. It is an evolving, living, breathing beast – it is all in the dynamics.

AHL Broadcast Update

via Chris Botta, Sporting News

For its part, the American Hockey League is poised to help fill any game-action void for fans. The AHL has a deal in place with Sportsnet in Canada to broadcast an additional slate of games if NHL games are canceled. It also has begun discussions with NBC Sports Network and several RSNs about replacement broadcasts. Still, AHL commissioner David Andrews said his league hopes the NHL resolves its labor issues soon.

“While there may be a short-term bump for our league,” Andrews said, “there’s no question that the NHL playing is more important to us. It’s the best league in the world, and we are partners in the development of players and in the growth of the sport.”

According to Andrews, the AHL did see attendance gains during the 2004-05 lockout, especially in regions close to NHL markets. “We had a higher quality of competition,” Andrews said, noting that future NHL stars such as Eric Staal, Jason Spezza and Dustin Brown played in the AHL while their rookie NHL seasons were postponed by the lockout. “Marquee names attract media coverage and fans.”