Ice in Tampa a hot issue

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:34 PM ET


 TAMPA -- Floridians have no trouble making ice cubes to cool poolside beverages but creating a slick surface for the world's best hockey players has been a sticky situation.

 Card-carrying NHL members for more than a decade and occupants of a new downtown arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning has still gained a reputation for having one of the worst rinks to play in because of the ice.

 And just like the old expression, it's not the heat, it's the humidity.

 To that end, the NHL has hauled in three massive diesel-fueled dehumidifiers, a powerplay intended to drop to level of moisture in the air of the St. Pete Times Forum from 70% to about 50%.

 The machines have been humming away 24 hours a day behind the arena as the league attempts to create the best conditions for the Stanley Cup final.

 "Ice is like a magnet for humidity and we have to fight it in two ways," explains Dan Craig, NHL facility operations manager, taking a breather during yesterday's pre-game preparations.

 "It's the snow accumulation out there that affects the ice in two ways.

 "What happens is the snow on top of the ice gets sticky, so we need to keep the humidity lower and keep the ice colder...

 "If you get a warmer surface and humid air, the ice gets sticky and it gets that slushy feel. That's why we bring in the extra dehumidification (machines) and we make the ice temperature two or three degrees colder than what we normally do."

 Craig -- who used to work at Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum, now Rexall Place, long believed to have the best ice in the league -- has been working for the NHL seven years.

 "The huge crowd is an issue but we have to control the opening of doors, how many we open and when they're opened," Craig notes, pointing out the intense heat and humidity in Florida is a constant concern.

 Craig says the humidity in the Saddledome is typically 30% lower, naturally better conditions for making ice.

 "That's why we had such great ice (in Edmonton)," Craig acknowledges.

 "In addition to the other things we did, we didn't have so much humidity."

 An additive used here also makes the water freeze immediately upon being sprayed onto the surface, unlike the typical gravity feed procedure used by most NHL ice resurfacers like Calgary's.


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