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Have you ever thought about how the ice surface is made? And how should the perfect ice look like? The IIHF schedule is extraordinarily busy, after all, during some days the stadiums in Paris and Cologne are going to host up to six matches! And when you throw in the trainings and skating tryouts it’s clear that the ice rink surface is under tremendous strain. The situation is further complicated by warm May weather, on top of it all. “Such conditions make the ice harder to maintain, deep grooves appear and

those are hard to repair. One round with the ice resurfacing machine isn’t enough. Preparing the ice for the next day is becoming harder,” says Václav Žíla, Tipsport Arena’s seasoned ice keeper. The ice surface for the Prague’s hall has been made by him for full 25 years. He started immediately after military service and since then he has been preparing rinks for matches of the Czech extraleague and Russian KHL. His work was tested also by NHL clubs during trainings, and representative teams in the course of World Championship in Prague and Ostrava in 2015.

Rink is not just a frozen puddle

How should the perfect ice look like according to Žíla? “The optimal ice surface must be very slippery because of the puck, perfectly solid so you won’t sink, but on the other hand it’s must be shatter-proof. And it should generate as little as possible snow, scraped by the ice-skates,” he describes.

The overall state of ice is influenced by a whole set of factors - surrounding temperature, used water, environmental humidity, cooling… Its quality is determined by the circumstances under which it was created. In extreme cases, the ice rink can be ready in two days, but it reflects on the quality. The ideal ice is being prepared a whole week. How?

VÁCLAV ŽÍLA
Tipsport Arena‘s seasoned ice keeper

COMPLETE TUTORIAL: ICE MAKING

FIRST, YOU NEED A PERFECTLY CLEANED CONCRETE SLAB, WHICH WILL GO UNDER THE ICE

 

“First, you need a perfectly cleaned concrete slab, which will go under the ice,” starts Žíla his narration. “The slab is then cooled down with the help of kilometres of inbuilt thin tubes, which are filled by cooled ammonia. When we get to at least -3 degrees the surface is ready for a first water spraying. This one is very delicate. Then comes the second, after which the ice is approximately three to four millimetres thin. The next step is colouring the surface, because concrete has not the quality white shade we need.”

Following step on the list is making lines. “Before, we used to paint the lines, circles, and creases with the help of stencils, nowadays it’s done with a special firm wallpaper,” says Žíla. “Then it’s all about adding additional layers of ice. If you are in a hurry to make the ice you can use the hose nozzle connected to a hydrant, but it’s not an ideal case. Spraying is far better, it beats the oxygen out of the water and it makes the ice more compact.”

Spraying is far better, it beats the oxygen out of the water and it makes the ice more compact

The ads are put in place the moment the ice is approximately one centimetre thin, so if there is a potential change of partners, only the upper ice layer has to be removed, not the whole surface. When the ice keepers spray the last layer the ice reaches thickness of three to five centimetres. Between the boards there are estimated 90 cubic metres of frozen water at that moment. For complete coverage we should mention that we’re not talking about ordinary water – it was filtered and softened to have zero hardness.

COME AND SKATE!

After all this, the ice is finally prepared for the skaters. Before the tournaments begin the ice is left to hockey teams, schools, and public for at least a week - for skating tryouts. “The ice cracks a little and interlocks. Until that it has a bad quality. If the first match took place on a fresh ice rink, it would be a great disaster,” warns Žíla. Anyhow, the work is not done for the ice keepers.

As mentioned above, the rink is under great pressure during the Championship. The ice almost flies away from the ice-skates of burly men. So, there is a constant need to resurface, scrape, cut off, and resurface again… And sometimes, even this isn’t enough. “When a complaint appears about the ice quality, I always say that both teams had the same conditions. Who adapts better, wins.”