Saddledome ice no longer among top three in NHL

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

A Norman Rockwell moment:

Flames winger Tony Amonte and his sons are skating at the Saddledome. Young Tristan Amonte, trying to stickhandle and shoot like dad, tumbles to the ice harmlessly.

Overseeing the turn of events, George Greenwood fingers the culprit.

"Bad ice," he says half-jokingly.

Not the first time those words have been uttered in the Saddledome this season.

For many years, NHLers considered Calgary's rink to have among the best ice in the league.

It was consistently good, not prone to chipping or as susceptible to ruts as nearly every other rink.

Playing at the 'Dome was a respite from the slushy and substandard rinks around the NHL.

That hasn't been the case this season.

"It's not as good as it's been in the past," said Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr.

"And it shouldn't be that way. It should be the best in the league."

Since the new NHL was unveiled, players have complained the Saddledome's ice isn't what it used to be.

Instead of raving about the ice being one of the best -- if not the best -- surfaces in the league, they're complaining about deep ruts in high-traffic areas and the ice chipping apart.

Greenwood, the Saddledome's building operations manager, has felt the sting of those comments all season.

"It's the worst year I've had ever in my career," said Greenwood, who's been part of the 'Dome team for 18 years.

"Worst year, without question.

"We just hate to lose that reputation. All our ice guys are concerned about it. They don't want to make too many changes too quickly because you don't find out what the real problem is.

"You've got to make changes in steps to find it. It's the players' dancefloor and everybody is really concerned about getting it right for the playoff run."

That has rarely been the case since the puck dropped in October.

For a litany of reasons, the Saddledome surface hasn't been up to expectations.

For starters, the business of the Saddledome has come into play.

Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operation manager, knows all about the Saddledome, having spent years in charge of Edmonton's ice. He said a steady stream of events through the 'Dome has wreaked havoc in what is one of the league's older venues.

"It used to be a building almost strictly for hockey but when you bring in extra concerts and things like dirt shows, monster trucks or rodeos, there are challenges," Craig said.

"Every single day, you have to be on top of that building, especially with how many events are in there. When you look at it, there are four or five events a week."

Western Canada's unseasonably warm winter also has had a major impact. It's not necessarily the temperature but the effects on the water, Greenwood said.

"It's been like spring runoff all the way through the winter," he said.

"The water in Calgary has changed, too, I think. It's got more stuff in it, more additives, and it's harder."

Humidity is also a factor -- not that the air in Calgary is all that moist but it wasn't as dry here this year as most winters.

That said, Greenwood admits there has been human error along the way.

Early in the season, there were changes made in the water-softening process that didn't have the desired effect.

Greenwood said it's back closer to what it used to be.

As disappointing as the ice has been, the news isn't disastrous to Greenwood's crew.

Aside from the first game after the Olympic break -- there were major problems taking out the dirt from a monster truck show -- Calgary's ice still received good grades against the curve.

In the latest rankings, taken from reports filled out by players and officials after every game, the 'Dome has the sixth-best ice in the league.

Detroit was tops.

"It's still very good compared to most of the league," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

"Games like that one after the Olympic break make you appreciate how good it normally is."

The pat on the back is appreciated by Greenwood. As is the top-third ranking.

Still, he wants the rink to again be back among the NHL's best.

"It's not bad but it's not where we want to be," he said. "Everybody wants us to be in the top three and that's where we want to be."

- - -

THE BEST

FIVE NHL RINKS KNOWN TO HAVE GREAT ICE

Edmonton -- Considered the standard, though admittedly not as good as years past.

Minnesota -- A new arena in a hockey-mad city. One of the best rinks in the league.

Detroit -- Despite the size of the city, the Joe Louis Arena hosts few other events other than hockey.

Montreal -- A city with the great hockey history also has great ice.

Vancouver -- The departure of the NBA Grizzlies meant less use for non-hockey activities.

- - -

THE WORST

FIVE NHL RINKS KNOWN TO HAVE SLUSH FOR ICE

Florida -- A bad rink perfect for a bad team.

New York Rangers -- Always being used for events other than hockey makes Madison Square Garden terrible.

Tampa Bay -- The Florida humidity makes it very tough. Surprisingly, the Stanley Cup finals weren't a disaster.

Anaheim -- A notoriously bad rink for slushy ice.

Los Angeles -- Staples Center has three major tenants -- the Kings, Lakers and Clippers -- making for major ice problems.


Videos

Photos