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NHL Seattle, OVG, Pacific Science Center Team Up on Speaker Series

New program features puck physics, hockey analytics, why New Arena is 'building a ship in a bottle'

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ /

NHL Seattle and Pacific Science Center will be neighbors once the New Arena at Seattle Center is ready for occupancy in the spring of 2021. But both organizations decided to get a head start, joining together to host a series of talks about "The Science of Sports & Entertainment."

The series, also hosted by Oak View Group, debuted Feb. 26 with a focus on the design and engineering challenges associated with construction of the New Arena at Seattle Center. And, make no mistake, there are, ahem, complexities.

"As Tod Leiweke likes to say, this building is not for the faint of heart," said Shaun Mason, construction consultant at CAA ICON and integral member of the build team.

Mason offered up some of the heart-stoppers: How do you build a brand-new arena but keep the historic roof? The original loading dock will become an entrance as the building "does a 180 and there will be no back door." The roof will be suspended in mid-air with custom buttresses and columns to temporarily support it while the construction crew digs an additional 15 feet below ground that is already 37 feet deep (to become roughly five stories below ground).

"It will be like building a ship in a bottle," says Mason, who has worked on the new, acclaimed arenas for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers.

Mason was one of three speakers sharing arena design stories with an enthusiastic crowd that was treated to a 6:15 reception with drinks and light bites before the 7 p.m. talk. He was joined by Geoff Cheong of Populus Architecture and Jeff Sawarynski of ME Engineers.

Cheong noted the challenge of making the planned multi-story south glass atrium "the new front door" and "affording a stunning view of the Space Needle" for hockey fans while also complying with NHL construction standards.

"They like it cool and dry," said Cheong.

Sawarynski discussed how to accomplish the necessary dehumidifying to keep a hard ice surface. Typically, that means giant dehumidifiers fastened to an NHL arena roof. But not when your roof is a national landmark and a Seattle treasure.

It required many rounds of drawings, scientific debate, calculations, creative engineering and maybe a few pizza-fueled hackathons, but Sawarynski explained his group devised a "snorkel" system that will not be anywhere near the roof or even visible, plus get the dehumidifying job done (someone please notify NHL ice guru Dan Craig, best known for setting rinks for the League's Winter Classic series).

Video: Introducing: The Science of Sports and Entertainment

The audience used its full 30 minutes and then-some to ask 10 excellent questions. The first three covered various environmental concerns, reminding everyone that Seattle leads the country in sustainable building practices and the city's new jewel of an arena will be no exception.

But the best question of all might well be the last one. A young man referenced the noise that opposing NFL teams confront when playing the Seahawks and asked whether the New Arena at Seattle Center can be designed and built to "rattle the opposition" with fan noise.

The happy answer? Yes. Bring your vocal chords.

Cheong and Mason pointed out the tall wall of glass for the new south atrium will provide a hard surface that is ideal for acoustics at concerts and, well, rattling the Canucks and other rivals-to-be.

"We can just plant that opposing goalie in the north end [where the noise will bounce]," Cheong joked.

Mason said the new arena's design will cantilever the upper bowl over the lower bowl of the stands: "It will be an unparalleled experience in which you feel so close to the ice. For comparison, the front edge of upper decks at United Center [Chicago Blackhawks] and Staples Center [L.A. Kings] are still farther back than our back edge will be."

Back at the office, all of this Seattle-worthy noise and proximity to the ice warms the heart of Dave Tippett, currently NHL Seattle's one-man hockey operations department.

"The crowd noise is a good example of how the players can know people are behind you," said Tippett, thinking back to his head coaching days behind the bench for the Arizona Coyotes. "It definitely makes a difference. Winnipeg established that level of noise. They make sure you know you are the enemy."

Then Tippett reaches a bit farther back to his playing days as a left wing for 11 NHL seasons.

"I like the way our arena is shaping up," he said. "Getting fans close to the action and making lots of noise, it feels like the old [vintage NHL] arenas to me. That's a good thing."

The next talk in "The Science of Sports & Entertainment" series will be Tuesday, April 23, with the topic to be announced. But expect more insights and flat-out cool stuff. The partnership aims to traverse the fields of sports and science from physics (how the puck glides on the ice, among other queries) to nutrition and neuroscience to data analytics to the latest breakthroughs in sleep and recovery for athletes.

But no napping on this series. It is open to the public. To learn more and purchase tickets,

Video: The Science of Sports and Entertainment Talk #1


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