Leafs' new help comes in under cap

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

The Maple Leafs' new secret weapon weighs 56,000 pounds and has to be lowered through a hole in the Air Canada Centre roof.

But if it works to perfection, then the quality of ice will improve and length of the Leafs' season will stand a greater chance of being extended. The team invited the media to witness installation of the second of two giant dehumidification systems yesterday, hoping to end more than six years of complaints from players about mushy conditions.

"We should have a home-ice advantage," Leafs general manager John Ferguson said.

"This will make a Jason Blake that much quicker."

The $3.8-million system, built by Canadian company Munters, has been adapted in southern U.S. NHL locales such as Carolina, Florida and Dallas and the Devils' new rink in Newark, N.J. The NHL has a goal of getting each arena to a relative humidity of 40% on game nights.

The 16-by-25-foot contraptions at the ACC will draw an estimated 8,600 pounds of water per hour from the building during an event and channel back dry air, thereby reducing the snow on the ice surface and making fans comfortable.

"There will be less friction and the puck will slide better," said Diego Roccasalva, vice-president of operations for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

BLACKOUT DATES

To make the system work even more effectively, Roccasalva said there will be event blackout dates during the season, about three days a month, to get the ice in pristine condition. He also thinks a drier ACC event level will extend the life of the Raptors floor for basketball games.

MLSEL kept boasting it had one of the best ice surfaces in the NHL, seemingly deaf to arguments from its own team about sluggish conditions and injury risks. Turning down the temperture a few degrees didn't work.

Now the company has gone so far as to work with Queen's University on a study of the ice/humidity issue and has invited the Discovery Channel and Weather Network to monitor the ACC's progress.


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