Nov. 11, 2009
Where to begin? I spent nearly three hours on Tuesday listening in on a meeting and walking around with people from the Wisconsin Athletic Department's facilities maintenance, event management, administration and the department electrician, as well as people from Ice Rink Events, SGA Production Staging, Inc., and Plymouth Foam. The meeting was a walk-through regarding the upcoming Culver's Camp Randall Hockey Classic.
I wish I could have invited the general public, or at least members of the media, who could have helped get across the excitement surrounding this event from those involved with making it happen.
For some basics about the set up, the rink for the game will be NHL-sized, so 200-feet long by 85-feet wide. The sheet of ice will span from the 17-yard line on both sides of the field, with the rink set up in the center of the field.
Ice Rink Events is the name of the company charged with turning the turf in the football stadium into ice. They've done it all before. They are the same company that handled the ice at Lambeau Field for the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic in 2006. They've also done the original NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo, N.Y., between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We specialize in special events, unique installations and exciting locations," said Ice Rink Events Project Manager Patrick Seltsman. "Going to a football game 20 years ago here is still one of the most outstanding experiences of my life. I can imagine that a special event hockey game here is going to be electric."
Seltsman and Ice Rink Events will bring in a chiller, a generator that will run the chiller, and all the coolant, piping, hoses, boards, man power and know-how to Madison for the event.
The chiller and generator are expected to be housed in the southwest corner of the stadium, adjacent to the Athletic Operations building. From that same corner, the ice resurfacing machines will enter, as well as Michigan and Bemidji State. The Badger men will enter the ice from the student section corner in the northeast corner of the stadium, while the Badger women will reach the ice from the Bucky's Locker Room corner. All those plans are tentative at the moment.
The current timeline to install the rink begins at daybreak on Monday, Jan. 25. The decking or foam base that will be used to create the surface for the ice will be installed during the first two days. More on how that will be done later.
Following the two-day base construction, which must be leveled constantly during installation, the actual installation of the rink will begin. That means that matting for the ice, the boards and the ice itself will go in at that time.
According to Seltsam, that would mean that by Feb. 1, the ice would be ready for low-level usage. That means that if a few people wanted to test to make sure things were going to be good to go for game day on Feb. 6, they could do so at that point. Game shape for the ice wouldn't come for a few days after that.
Before any of that happens, however, a survey crew will visit the field and give Ice Rink Events, and those who will help with creating the staging for the rink itself, an idea of the pitch of Camp Randall Stadium. In case you haven't been down at field level at the Stadium, or another such facility, the field is crowned. The highest point of the field is near the "W" at midfield and the playing surface drops off from there towards the sidelines and towards the goal lines.
"We specialize in unique and challenging, interesting rinks," added Seltsam. "We can do traditional rinks, but we don't spend a lot of time chasing down such events. Very few people know how to do events like this. The ice is easy. Creating a level surface that can handle a 10,000-pound ice resurfacing machine is the great challenge."
It is a challenge that won't be tackled alone by Ice Rink Events. It may be SGA Production Staging, Inc., helping level the playing field with staging, like it did for "The Cold War" between Michigan and Michigan State in 2001 in East Lansing, Mich. They also did work at Lambeau Field, Ford Field for last year's NCAA Final Four, the Olympics and four Super Bowls. It may also end up being Plymouth Foam, a company out of Plymouth, Wis., who gets the job done. It may be a combination of everyone. That is a decision that will be made in the near future.
With such an event like this, there has yet to be constructed a perfect special-event rink. As more and more events take place, the process improves. Plymouth Foam is a new possibility in the process. If they are involved, their No. 6 polystyrene foam would provide the rink base. The company self-recycles the foam by breaking it down and using it other products. Otherwise, such material could be stored to be used again in a similar manner at some future date.
Either way, it will take truck-loads of materials to get the job completed. Tom Hilton, from SGA, estimated between five and 10 semi trucks worth of decking will be necessary to level the field. If the group goes the foam route, three or four truckloads will be needed for the job.
The ice itself will begin with a layer that will reach the top of the mats for the base layer. From there, about an eighth of an inch of sand will cover the ice to provide some stability and some insurance against cracks in the playing surface. This is one example of improvements made as more events are held. Sand was not used for the game at Lambeau Field and cracking became a concern before the event.
Another half inch of ice or so will be added on top of that, before the paint layer is added with the lines and logos. One more layer of ice on top of the paint will complete the set up. The cooling pipes run under the ice to keep things cold in case of warm weather. For a project like this, they'll actually be a heat exchange in case the weather gets too cold. The exchange keeps the ice at the proper temperature to prevent chipping.
Heat will also likely be added for the player benches, with hot air pumped throughout as a way to keep players warm and injury free.
This project will be an extremely heavy load to place upon the Field Turf of Camp Randall Stadium, but that is all taken into account with the rink's construction. Ice Rink Events is responsible for meeting the specifications laid out by Field Turf to keep the warranty in place and keep the field in football-playing shape. The key is to spread the load of the ice, and the ice resurfacing machine, to as wide an area as possible. The deck or foam base is designed to accomplish the feat.
The source for the boards for this project hasn't been determined as of yet, but the choices appear down to two. The boards may be brand new, or they'll be coming straight from the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which are held in Spokane, Wash., this year.
Like all large projects, this one will challenge those involved, but with careful planning, the possibility of problems is eliminated.
"We've done hundreds of rinks," explained Seltsam. "We have a 30,000-square foot rink in Zocalo Square in Mexico City. This will be the third year now. That is the one I'm told was difficult. That one was a challenge the first year.
"We've worked with tight timelines, like the NHL Winter Classic in Buffalo. The actual install was fine, but we got stuck with bad weather, so the timelines made that a little challenging. We don't think of rinks as difficult, we just think of them as adventures."
After this adventure, the company will take off for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. There they will install a 300-meter loop of ice that will include a meandering pathway as part of the Richmond O Zone near the speed skating venue. The area will be a social hub during the upcoming Olympic Games.
"The experience the University of Wisconsin had at Lambeau Field was positive enough to the point where they wanted to do it here," said Seltsam. "It is great to see that the coaching staff has the enthusiasm to get out there and do it again. Any time you have a crowd like we'll have here and the environment we'll have here, it will surely be a great event."
Paul Capobianco, UW Athletic Communications