Belak cool to ice issue

Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Wade Belak (right) is taking issue with the ice surface at the Air...

Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Wade Belak (right) is taking issue with the ice surface at the Air Canada Centre. (Toronto Sun/Greg Henkenhaf)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:39 PM ET

After six years of complaints about the slow, choppy ice in their home rink, the Maple Leafs hope to get a step ahead with modern science.

Practice at the Air Canada Centre was halted yesterday to let building personnel tell the players and coach Pat Quinn about Fast Ice, a new system designed to improve one of the most difficult rinks to maintain in the National Hockey League. Basically, it's chemically treated water that is laid down in a mist as opposed to straight flooding.

"It hardens quicker," said Bob Hunter, general manager of the ACC. "We think it's going to make a difference."

Dallas, Tampa and Chicago, three warm-weather NHL cities, are using Fast Ice now, but the ACC crew will have to go a long way to win over a skeptic such as Wade Belak. The forward/defenceman has heard promises before that better ice is on the way and summed up current conditions with a four-letter expletive.

"We're the ones who have to hear about it when we're trying to chase down a puck and it's bouncing all over the ice and guys beat us to the net for a scoring chance," Belak said.

"Three years ago, they said they were going to lower the temperature of the concrete under the ice pad. We had good ice for four games, but it made the building a little cooler and of course everyone in the (lower bowl) platinums complained. They have to remember they're going to a hockey game, not the beach. I think if you can afford a platinum, you can afford to bring a jacket."

Quinn understands the difficulties of playing in a multi-use facility, where it can be difficult to keep the building cool in the late summer and early spring. Many NHL rinks have similar woes and the ice at the Marlies' home at Ricoh Coliseum drew constant player criticism during the early part of Leafs' training camp.

"The ice does influence the offensive and defensive side of your game," Quinn said, "particularly when you're trying to create the passing skills and the things that are needed to take advantage of the (speed) game that everyone wants us to play. You have to have ice you can slide a puck on. We need to do a little work.

"I know the staff works hard at it. We get flashes of decent ice, but right now, we're not."

There was a time when Maple Leaf Gardens was reputed to have the NHL's best ice, a title Toronto gave up long ago in the minds of the players to Edmonton's Rexall Place.

Leafs players once again will be consulted by building officials after games to give a report on the conditions.

"We're going to do everything we can to work with the players and talk to them about what we're doing," Hunter said.


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