DENVER CO - OCTOBER 7: David Jones #54 of the Colorado Avalanche skates across the signage for Face-Off 2010 against the Chicago Blackhawks during both team's season openers at the Pepsi Center on October 7 2010 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
In the intrest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I typed this up during our lockout. However, since it was still very hockey related, it got pushed to this week. I was planning on changing the title when I reworked it, but DDC convinced me to keep it. I'm glad I did. It was originally intended to get a little chuckle as the entire exercise of painting the ice just sounds all sorts of bizarre when summed up like that, but in the week since, it's taken on a new context and meaning. [Editor's Note: That DDC is such a dictator]
Anyway, a week or so ago, the Denver Post ran an article showing that the ice of the Pepsi Center had been laid and painted. It's a bit of a tradition around Labor Day weekend and is actually a pretty interesting process.
It starts with the concrete floor of the Pepsi Center. This isn't just your normal floor - it was designed specifically for hockey. For one, the concrete was poured as one massive slab. The upside to this method is a flat surface without expansion joints (like the breaks you see in sidewalks) anywhere underneath the rink, but the downside is that it has to be poured all at once (within a few hours), must use specially formulated concrete, and needs to be designed so that its thermal expansion/contraction doesn't cause the slab to push up against anything else and crack. The concrete also needs to be ever so slightly sloped and without any unwanted low-spots so that the melting ice can easily drain off of it at the end of the year. Pipes for refrigerant also need to be incorporated, as does some insulation to minimize the effect the ground temperature will have on the ice (and vice versa), rebar to help strengthen the slab, and drainage pipes to remove the water. It took a score of architects, engineers, contractors, skilled concrete professionals, and other experts working together to design that surface since they weren't just making a floor, they were making the very complex base of a hockey rink.
Each year around Labor Day, their work pays off. Up go the boards, connected to the floor and to each other in a very specific order and way. The brinewater refrigeration system in the concrete gets pumping, and the air conditioning system kicks on, sending the warm air from inside the arena out into the early September air. The temp of the Pepsi Center drops into the 60s and the floor drops into the mid 20s. Out come the hoses. Thin layers of de-ionizied and filtered water are laid directly on the concrete surface.
Two layers of clear ice go down, each allowed to freeze before the next is laid. Then they switch to a mix of water and a special bio-degradable white pigment. Since this pigment is not harmful to the environment or humans, Denver Utilities doesn't mind getting the water back at the end of the year. They offer the Pepsi Center a credit for the returned water, something that goes a long way in covering the cost of the rink water for next season. After treatment, they release that water back into the system, so if you live in Denver, chances are very good that you've drank part of a former skating surface at some point. Anyway, down goes the white pigment, then a few more layers of clear ice to seal it in. Then the fun really begins.
Large stencils are then brought out. Once they have the guidelines down, it's time to get painting. The pigment has to be applied by hand using brushes, so it's a labor-intensive process that takes a lot of hands and typically more than a day. Near the end, all the people who help paint the ice get to sign the inside of the big A (image from 2011) before it all gets covered in burgundy paint. Once the artists are done, 8 to 10 more coats of clear ice lock the design in place and the rink is ready for its first game.
Once the ice is laid, it's down for the year. If another sport or event is taking place during that time, large pieces of ice decking - essentially 4'x8' boards with a waffle pattern on one side to lock in the cold air over the rink - are laid down before any other floor is applied. The Nugget's court is a bunch of tiles that can be forklifted in and out within a couple hours, and the Mammoth's field are rolls of artificial turf. Both technically play over the same ice that the Avs do.
Typically, the ice painting a pretty well-publicized event. The Avs website had a photo album for it last year, and tons of season ticket holders and other guests got in on the action. But this year, only the Denver Post talked about it and it looks like the entire task fell to the ice crew.
The Pepsi Center is 100% ready for the Avs. More importantly, KSE, the company who owns both the Avs and the Pepsi Center, had enough faith that there would be hockey sometime this year to justify paying to have the ice put down. But with the current labor disputes and the impending lockout, whether this time-intensive process created a hockey rink or just a very unique mural is a question that only time and the NHL and NHLPA can answer.