Colder weather a boon for icemaker

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

If you've been wearing a tuque and mitts and feeling generally cold the past few days, blame Art Johnston.

The chief operator of the John Labatt Centre and the man responsible for the ice at this week's Canadian figure skating championships had been wishing and hoping for a chilly blast since last week's burst of spring-like weather resulted in rare, midwinter temperatures soaring into the double digits.

"I was worried for a little bit there. You could see the effect of the warm air outside on the ice inside," Johnston said.

"I was praying for some cold weather again."

He got his wish and is confident the JLC ice will be nice for nationals this week. There were several practice sessions yesterday and senior qualifying for the women skaters begins today.

"I think the ice is going to hold up fine, we haven't had any complaints yet," Johnston said. "This is the first week-long, national event we've had here and the ice will get a lot of use, but we're not worried about that. We've had Disney On Ice in here for five days before and that went well. The only difference is this is competitive and you want the ice to be ideal for all of the skaters."

At all national events, Skate Canada sets specifications for thickness of ice and temperature. Johnston said the ice thickness requirements are 1.5 inches (3.81 centimetres) and the temperature should be 25 or 26 degrees fahrenheit (-3.9 or -3.3 degrees celsius).

Ilderton resident and local skate volunteer Paul Moir, in charge of facilities for the championships, said skaters like the ice a little bit softer than hockey players.

"They want to have their toe pick bite into the ice when they're trying to land a triple jump," he said.

Skate Canada chief skating programs and events officer Jackie Stell-Buckingham said earlier that visitors who are familiar with the JLC will be amazed at how different the arena will look during the skating championships.

"All the rink boards and glass have been removed, it's a big change," Moir said. "There are a few things that had to be done. There are less seats (the arena capacity has been reduced to 8,018 from 9,000-plus) and the sound system is different. During Knights games, the sound system pumps the noise into the crowd. In figure skating, the important thing is that the skaters get to hear their music. It'll also go into the crowd but it's vital that the skaters are able to hear their music well to be able to perform their routines."

At the Western Fair Sports Centre, practice sessions are being held at its international-sized surface because of its spectator seating capabilities. Since the JLC conforms to smaller NHL measurements, there will be an outline of its dimensions painted on the larger Western Fair surface.

"You want the skaters to know how much room they're going to have once they get to the JLC," Moir said.

Few of the arriving competitors are familiar with the two arenas.

Defending men's champion Emanuel Sandhu said last week he has heard good things about the JLC and said he's eager to skate in front of the London fans.

"It's the biggest domestic event of the year, it's going to be a wonderful competition," he said during a conference call.

At most national events in larger arenas, the skaters have an area at the back-of-house where they can stretch and run through their routines in their bare feet. The JLC wasn't designed with that in mind but Stell-Buckingham said the area in the upper bowl usually reserved for standing-room crowds will likely be used for that purpose.

"Every arena you use for Canadians, there's something unique about it, you have to change a few things to fit your requirements," she said. "But when we came here for the site visit, we knew that this was an opportunity to have one of the best nationals ever. The arena is easy to work with from a technical standpoint, the volunteers know what they're doing and everything we need is located right downtown."

All that's missing is the drama of the competition and the passion of the skaters. That arrives today.


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