RALEIGH (July 25, 2001) -- For most people, making ice is a simple task performed by a small appliance mounted in the freezer or by pouring water into trays bought at the dollar store. For the Entertainment and Sports Arena’s Building Superintendent Donnie MacMillan, it’s a way of life.
Imagine freezing 15,000 gallons of water when the outside temperature is 90-plus degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity near 100 percent.
“We usually freeze about 600 gallons per hour,” said MacMillan. “So it takes 20 hours at least, if not more, not including the painting.”
The event floor of the Entertainment and Sports Arena is not the radiant white that shines through the ice during hockey games, but rather plain concrete gray. So, Step One – paint the floor.
“We use about 300 gallons of paint for the floor,” said MacMillan.
After the thin layer of white paint dries, the first few hundred gallons of water are sprayed on the floor by the “Jet Ice” machine. The machine holds 350 gallons and slowly dispenses them through a 10-foot wand with multiple sprayers on its back end.
“I think it’s the only one in the NHL,” said MacMillan. “The other rinks, they do it by hand. The wand that I use on the back (of the machine), they connect it to a hose and they have to walk.
“We have pretty good capabilities here. The humidity screws us up a lot, but we’re pretty good about keeping it really cold at night because it’s cooler. We can maintain 63 degrees in almost 90-degree weather. There’s a cost, but we have to do it.
“The rink will only freeze so much ice per hour. The chillers have only so much tonnage it can actually freeze. You can’t just throw a hose out there. It will freeze but what will happen is (the ice) will crack. Your ice expands in the refrigerator – it gets bigger, so we have to make it smaller.”
Ever wonder about the lines to the ice? How do they stay in place? Are they on the floor or on the ice?
“I put down a couple of clear coats (of ice), then we paint the lines and then more clear coats go on top,” said MacMillan. “So, they’re painted on ice, but below the surface.”
Believe it or not, the 17,000-square foot ice cube only averages about an inch in depth. Slight imperfections in the floor’s level lead to certain areas being deeper.
“We try to keep it between three quarters and an inch-and-a-quarter,” said MacMillan. “The water gets level by itself. Near the end, you put a couple of heavy, heavy coats on so it puddles where it’s not even.
“It’s a lot of common sense. Every building is different. Certain things that work in some buildings won’t work in others. It’s learning your building and everything else.”
MacMillan began learing his trade 25 years ago at the New Haven Coliseum in his native Connecticut.
“I was a rink rat and they brought me up,” said MacMillan. “A guy in the arena named Pete Vitalli - he was like a father/uncle-type. Every morning when he went to work, he would take me with him. I just piggybacked. He taught me everything.”
MacMillan began working full-time for the organization in 1993, one year before Peter Karmanos purchased the team. When the franchise moved to North Carolina in 1997, following his job was a no-brainer for MacMillan.
“It wasn’t hard because I love the sport, and the people are good to me here,” said MacMillan. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
MacMillan’s job requires him to worry about much more than just the ice surface.
“I also oversee the outside of the building – the sprinkler systems, the chem-lawns,” said MacMillan. “I also help with the building (TECO Arena) in Ft. Myers (Fla.). I’ll be taking my cart (the Jet Ice machine) down there to help them paint the ice.”
Thankfully MacMillan knows what he’s doing. The rest of us should probably stick to the ice-maker.
Carolina Hurricanes Website Reporter Kyle S. Hanlin can be reached at email@example.com.