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How Do You Create the Ice in an Ice Hockey Rink?

One of the highlights of playing and exploring in Power Play, created with exhibit partner Indy Fuel, is trying your hand at different skills and drills while skating in your socks in a miniature hockey rink. We don’t use real ice in this exhibit, though. It’s synthetic. That’s a much better fit for our museum. 

There are currently more than 1,700 ice rinks in the United States alone. What about them? How do they surface their rink for hockey season? We asked our Indy Fuel friends about this and they gladly pulled back the curtain on how they get their ice rink ready for the season.

The underlying technology behind indoor ice rinks is the same technology at work in refrigerators and air conditioners. The main difference in an ice rink—other than sheer size—is that the refrigerant doesn’t cool the ice directly. Instead, it cools brinewater, a calcium-chloride solution, which is pumped through an intricate system of pipes underneath the ice. It takes between 12,000 and 15,000 gallons of this water to form a hockey rink surface.

Now that you know this, are you ready to see a rink get iced? Watch this timelapse video that was taken over a week’s time.

Isn’t that cool?
No pun intended.

There’s a lot happening in this 30-second video. Let’s break things down a little:

1. Starting with concrete floors, we put boards in and then clean the ground. When the "ice slab" gets cold enough, layers of the brinewater are applied.

2. The concrete gets painted white. That’s right. They have to paint the rink white. If it didn’t, the ice would not show up. This allows for a strong contrast between the black hockey puck and the white ice. Then thin layers of the water-based calcium chloride brinewater solution are added. This basically freezes the paint.

3. Once the white paint is frozen, hockey markings—circles, creases, and lines—are all outlined and painted on. Some teams use a vinyl or certain material mat for their creases, the Indy Fuel paints them on. 

4. Add another few layers of the special liquid to freeze those in place.
All sponsor logos and the main center ice logo are painted on. Another few layers of liquid are added to freeze the logos in place.

5. The ice is then ‘flooded’ which really just means that several layers are added until the ice meets the required thickness—one inch. 
That’s quite a process, isn’t it? No wonder hockey is the coolest game in town.

Here’s a few more things about the ice at hockey rinks:

Sharing venues
In most stadiums, the ice remains set for the entire season. If teams share their arena with a concert venue or basketball team, that flooring is placed on top of the ice.

“Fast” and “slow” ice
Hockey players prefer what is known as “fast ice.” It’s harder and colder, with a smooth, slippery surface. “Slow ice” is preferred by figure skaters. It’s softer and has a rough surface. This type of ice surface holds up better for a figure skater’s jumps and landings.

How do you keep an ice rink smooth and slippery for hockey players during a game? That’s where the ice resurfacer—popularly known as a Zamboni machine—comes into play. It lays down a thin layer of clean water, which will freeze to form a smooth ice surface. 

On average, a Zamboni machine “travels” close to 2,000 miles each year in the course of resurfacing. That’s quite a trip!

Speaking of ice resurfacers, did we mention that you can resurface a digital ice rink with a hand-held Zamboni machine in the Power Play exhibit?

Power Play is now open at The Children’s Museum and is included with museum admission. It doesn't matter if you’re a hockey super-fan or can't tell a hockey stick from a selfie stick, there's something for everyone in this exhibit with a no fear, just fun atmosphere.

Power Play is presented by Indiana811.com