A little paint, a little water equals an NHL rink

It’s really just finger paint and water.

The end product is a regulation NHL ice rink, complete with lines, face-off circles, goal creases and advertisement logos. And the unofficial start of another hockey season.

The process of installing an ice surface does require skill and high-tech, but the basic elements couldn’t be simpler. Workers began the process of turning the floor of Philips Arena into a rink on Thursday in preparation for the Thrashers' 2010-11 season. The majority of what is seen under the ice surface is painted by hand.

“It’s the same stuff you used when you were in kindergarten,” Dave Loverock of Jet Ice Limited said of the water-based paint.

Loverock, who has been helping install ice surfaces for more than 30 years, worked with about 20 arena employees in the painting process. It takes about seven hours to complete a rink.

There are nine miles of tubing in the concrete floor of the arena, according to Barry Henson, vice president of building operations. A coolant running through the tubes drops the temperature of the floor to 14 degrees and a fine mist of water applied to the floor instantly freezes. The entire floor is then painted white and sealed with another mist of water.

Lines are placed on the floor to block the rink markings and a crew of painters fills them in with the appropriate color. The center red line, the blue lines, the face-off circles and the goal creases are painted in a matter of hours. The paint never really dries; rather it freezes and is dry to the touch immediately. Loverock painted the center-ice circle with a bristle brush by hand with just a thin line as a guide.

Lines for the more intricate Thrashers logo are placed at center ice with a chalk-like substance. Using the six colors that make up the logo, painters filled in the pattern using a guide. The painted areas receive several mists of water to seal them with about 1/16th of an inch of ice.

“If you put too much water on it at one time, it will melt the paint,” Henson said. “You have to be very careful. Everything has to snap freeze. It has to freeze within seconds of the water hitting it or it will melt the paint.”

Corporate logos are the only unpainted items on the ice. Those large manufactured icons are precisely placed on the floor. This is done so they can be updated or replaced without having to remove all the arena ice.

“This is high profile,” said Loverock, who will move on to Pittsburgh, Washington and New York in the next week to install more surfaces. “People pay a lot of money for them to look good.”

Once the process is complete, the entire floor is misted with water. A 10-foot sprayer applies water several times until the ice is 1/4-inch thick. Zambonis make the final passes to build the thickness to one inch, which is all the ice that will separate the skaters from the arena floor.

The painted elements tend to show up better than the manufactured logos under the ice surface.

“It’s amazing how nice it looks when it’s done,” said worker Sam Dunn.

The Philips Arena crew has installed the floor many times without the assistance of an outside company, said Henson. The crew will make repairs as necessary throughout the season.

“We do some ice maintenance every now and then to fix places that start to look bad,” Henson said. “No matter how good your ice is, there is always going to be a time when someone hits their skate just right or two ruts come together and that will blow out. It’s a simple repair.”

The ice is covered to accommodate the installation of the basketball court for the Hawks or for other events such as concerts.

The ice will be removed only once during the season, in February when the circus comes to town. According to Loverock, some busy arenas, such as Madison Square Garden in New York, remove their ice as many as four times a season.

The removal process is simpler still. Warm water is run through the tubing in the concrete floor and when the ice starts to separate, it is pushed into a pit in the floor located near the penalty box area. There the ice, with the paint, melts and is flushed away.

The Thrashers play their first game on the new ice on Sept. 21, a preseason game against Columbus. Putting the ice down Thursday was simply a matter of scheduling.

“This is the only time we have this amount of open dates,” Henson said. “The rest of the time, it’s something every day.”

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