CALGARY – The NHL's ice guru, Dan Craig, went straight to his main point in a pre-7 a.m. meeting with Colin Campbell, Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations here at McMahon Stadium.
"I told him we were going 'old-school,' " said Craig, referring to the decision to not send out Zambonis to clean and resurface the ice during intermissions of today's 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.
Instead, expert skating NHL ice crew members will clear the ice with specially-designed shovels. Craig's son, Mike, will follow with a thin spray of hot water from a custom-made water-sprayer unit. Craig will guide his son — now there's a Heritage twist — by walkie-talkie, since it is hard to see where the spray lands with all of the steam created.
How fitting for this celebration of pond hockey.
Craig talked to NHL.com about the rationale for no Zambonis: "We've all felt the extreme weather of 48 to 72 hours, which has dipped to as low as minus-25 Celsius (minus-13 Fahrenheit). Our inline heater can only make the ice about 10 degrees Celsius warmer (or 18 degrees warmer in Fahrenheit)."
As a result, when temperatures drop any lower than minus-10 to -12 Celsius or about 12 degrees Fahrenheit, the ice is in danger of becoming brittle. If Craig sends out the Zambonis, that represents nearly 14,000 pounds of machinery that can lead to systemic cracking of the ice and, potentially, an unplayable surface.
Craig said the no-Zamboni system was employed during Montreal's outdoor practice Saturday at McMahon Stadium and the team "went hard" during a spirited and successful workout. The NHL ice crew effectively used tarps during the last couple of nights to keep the ice from becoming too cold overnight. Those tarps were removed at 11 local time on Sunday morning.
The ice crew will also work the shoveling detail during TV timeouts to make the intermisson clean-up and spraying goes faster. Craig said each crew member will be skating at intense levels and "breaking quite a sweat."
"The integrity of the ice and player safety will still be there [with the shoveling and spraying]," said Kris King, NHL vice president of hockey operations. "It accomplishes the same effect. Zambonis simply allow you to clean the ice faster and easier."
Author: Bob Condor | NHL.com Editor-in-Chief