Few people pay much attention to the ice beneath the athletes’ skates during a hockey game. Instead, most dedicated fans are cheering for their favorite players, watching as both teams vie competitively to score the game-winning goal on the opposing player’s net. Some, of course, may find their attention wandering to other sights and sounds within the arena, much of which may be occurring directly next to them in the stands around the rink.
But while the athletes may certainly be the stars of the show, the surface below, the ice, is undoubtedly necessary for the sport to continue. The relationship is incredibly apparent; no ice, no ice hockey.
Because it is such an important part of the sport of hockey, all passionate hockey players and fans should understand what goes into creating and maintaining a rink for play. The following information includes a brief history of the ice rink, and will help you realize all of the hard work and effort that goes into manufacturing the icy rink on which we skate.
History of the Rink
Of course, ice rinks were not always such large productions that required significant work and maintenance throughout the seasons. Instead, before the advent of manmade ice rinks, hockey players were forced to enjoy their sport only during certain times throughout the year. More specifically, temperatures needed to drop significantly below freezing to solidify large bodies of water; during winter, athletes could enjoy the sport of hockey, yet come spring and they would have another year to wait until they could get back out onto the ice again.
When did this all change? The first appearance of a manmade ice rink was made in the mid 1870s in London, and used a primitive technology to freeze the water on the rink, and keep it frozen for long periods of time. Specifically, this individual rink was crafted through the use of a mixture of glycerin and water circulating through copper pipes to chill the surface.
Shortly after this initial appearance, another ice rink opened in the United States, and the technology to create and maintain such surfaces only continued to improve since then.
Creating Ice Rinks Today
How, then, are ice rinks created and maintained today to allow for the enjoyment of hockey and other skating year-round? Do we still rely on the basic technology used in the 1870s, or has the process improved greatly since then?
The technology is certainly similar when compared to years past, although it has been honed significantly to allow for a much more efficient process. To begin creating an ice rink, first a layer of either sand or concrete is necessary; pipes pass through this surface to help cool and freeze the water that sits above. Once the original layer of concrete or sand is placed down on the rink in the arena, a thin layer of water is sprayed on top of the cold pipes; this seals the layer of concrete or sand, and allows for a level surface to be crafted. Once this initial layer of water has frozen on top of the concrete or sand, it is painted to show the markings required in hockey; specifically, red and blue lines are painted on top of the surface. Finally, once the painting is finished, another layer of water is sprayed on top of this to thicken the ice; depending on the location of the rink, the final thickness of the ice may range from ¾ inch to 1-½ inches.
And to freeze the ice, the process is similar to before, although different materials are used. For example, while in the 1870s a mixture of glycerin and water was used, now, a combination of water and antifreeze or refrigerant, or even a salt brine, passes through the pipes to allow the water to freeze.
Maintaining the Ice
Along with creating the ice, there is a process of maintaining the surface, as well. This is most often performed through the use of a Zamboni, an on-ice vehicle meant to resurface the rink to prevent any imperfections. To do so, the Zamboni first washes the ice, then shaves the ice, and finally leaves a layer of fresh water that will ultimately freeze and create a smoother surface. The Zamboni is specifically designed to conduct these operations in order and to resurface the ice in the most efficient manner possible.
Appreciating the Ice in a Hockey Rink
The process of making a regulation-sized hockey rink is one that has evolved over the past years, and that requires a significant amount of work to perform correctly. Make sure to consider this amazing feat the next time you head out onto an ice rink to play this sport that you love.