While the NHL’s Board of Governors approved the Memorandum of Understanding with the NHLPA to begin the end of the lockout Wednesday afternoon, 226 miles to the southwest, the crew at Verizon Center was busy putting down the ice surface the Capitals will use this year for the shortened season.
With the boards standing in a nearly empty arena, the crew was walking across the newly-frozen surface to paint and add logos to the playing surface, which was a thin layer of ice with a white water-soluble paint on top of the building’s concrete floor.
“About 5:00 in the morning, they started bringing the floor below like 36 degrees,” Jamie Gibson, Assistant Director of Operations of Verizon Center explained. “And then about 8:30, [we] started putting down coat of water on the concrete to seal the concrete. After we do that a few times, we paint the white, which is a water soluble dump it in the water and it freezes when you put water. And you seal it again with water, and then paint the lines and logos and stuff.”
The blue lines, face-off circles and dots are painted directly on the ice, the center ice line – which the Capitals decorate with stars instead of stripes – and other logos and wordmarks are actually cloth placed on the ice and then covered with water and rolled flat.
Workers placed a small spike in the ice to measure the circles, using a tether to paint the face-off circles. The blue lines were marked with string, and after the two sides were added, a worker using a paint tray and a brush filled it in. After the lines were down, the center ice stripe, Capitals logo and sponsor logos were put into place based on a diagram on a notebook placed on the dasher boards.
While the crew used to paint the entire ice, the cloth logos are reusable, and make putting down the ice faster – but slows down the meltdown process.
“Probably in the last six or seven years, we started using the cloth logos,” Gibson said, “it’s easier, you don’t have as much of a mess. They’re harder to take out, but much easier to put in. … On the ice, it saves a lot of time. Taking it out, it adds a couple of hours. We reuse them. They get hung up and dried, and put them back out the next time we make ice.”
Once the paint and logos are in place, another 10,000 gallons of water are slowly used to build up the ice to an inch’s depth, a surface thick enough to protect the players from reaching the logos and paint. The entire process takes about 24 hours, meaning the ice will be ready to smooth out with the Olympia ice resurfacer.
“We’ll use that Friday to level out the ice,” Gibson said. “When you flood it, the ice is going too freeze the way the water goes, so you’ll end up with ripples on top, we’ll level it, use hot water on it, make it as good as we can. The more you resurface itself, the better it is.”
In a normal year, the crew will build and melt the ice several times in a season, but not this year.
“It depends on the year,” he said. “Some years, we’ve done as many as five. Sometimes you take it out for NCAA [regionals] or the other things, we have the horse show. We have monster trucks, whatever. … We can’t this year. This year’s kind of tight with the season.”
For those curious, Gibson was unaware of any plans to use a “Thank You Fans” logo in the ice as the NHL did following the lockout in the 2005-06 season. The reason is the ice would be down all year and tough to remove.
“There will be none this year,” he said. “They know everybody isn’t going to be taking the ice out, at the beginning of the season they take the ice out, it’s easy to pull those logos out, but with this compact season we’re going to have, they don’t want to put them in.”
Asked about some arenas that have left their ice in since September, such as Los Angeles’ Staples Center and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Gibson explained it would be expensive for Verizon Center to keep the surface down without any ice events.
“It would be very expensive,” he said. “The compressors would have been running since September with electric use and everything else.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time the ice has been down, as the crew put in the ice for the AHL Showcase back in December. But the rink was quickly melted after the event.
“Depressing,” Gibson recalled. “When you put it for one game, that’s a lot of work for one game. We want it to stay in.”
Gibson has been part of the ice crew since working at the Capital Centre in 1987. While the ice at Verizon Center has been a subject of some criticism by players over the years, he says the ice downtown is much better than the one in Landover.
“It’s much better,” he said. “Newer equipment, much better down here.”
So, while the NHL slowly moves back towards playing a season with the NHLPA expected to ratify their side of the agreement for camp likely starting Sunday and a season starting January 19th, Gibson is back to have hockey back in the building.
“It’s been kind of boring without it,” he said. “It’s great. Happy to have it back.”