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Proving paint and ice can mix

by Dan Rosen

A worker sprays water onto refrigeration coils at the Ralph Willson Stadium.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Dave Loverock once claimed he never again would paint ice outdoors because the elements can be too unpredictable.

He held to his word for 19 years. Than Dan Craig came calling.

“It’s almost like I got tricked into coming to this one,” Loverock told Friday afternoon.

Loverock, the vice president of Jet Ice, an ice painting company based out of Newmarket, Ontario, arrived at Ralph Wilson Stadium Thursday night with the task of painting the ice Craig and his crew have created to exact NHL specifications for the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

The last time he had painted ice outdoors was in 1988 when he created a 250x450 foot maple leaf on a frozen-over Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta for a figure skating show.

“It was minus-40,” Loverock recalled. “We had to mix the paint in hot water and the nozzles on the sprayer had to be heated up as we went along to keep them from plugging, because the moment you shut them off they would freeze.”

The elements are a little more paint-friendly in Buffalo this week.

“We’re just above freezing,” Loverock said, “so we will be OK.”

Loverock, who is working directly with the ice crew from the HSBC Arena, took over the rink at roughly 1 p.m. Friday, when his crew painted the inch-thick ice white.

As long as the weather cooperates – meaning no rain or snow – the goal is to have the lines, circles and logos added in by Saturday.

The paint Loverock uses is similar to what a child would use for finger painting.

“The formulations are based off of old tempra-based paint,” he said. “It’s water-based and instead of it drying on a wall it thermally dries and freezes to the slab. Then you spray light sprays of mists on top of it to seal it in and hold it in place. It is buried in the ice. In this case they’ll have another inch of ice on top of it.”

Wet weather, though, poses a threat to the paint, which is why getting the white down and sealed before Friday’s forecasted rain washed over the Buffalo area was essential.

“The paint is water-based, so if you put too much water down on top of it you’ll float the paint away,” Loverock said. “You also can’t paint when it’s snowing. You want a good, clean, smooth surface. Too much wind will start blowing the paint all over the place as well.”

Getting the white down actually is rather a simple process. There are no specifications to adhere to because it covers the entire surface.

The trick is in getting down the lines, circles and NHL Winter Classic logos.

“You won’t believe this, but it’s almost too simple,” Loverock said. “We have two formats here. We brought paint and paper. If it is really raining you can’t paint because it would just wash away, but the paper you can put down and all you do is take a roll of it, pull it across the ice, tension it up, and drop it in and freeze over it. With paint we run wool across the ice, just yarn. We run it across and freeze it in. The wool serves as your guidelines to keep the lines straight. You go over the wool with a weed sprayer filled with water to freeze it in, and than we just paint it over with a brush. You leave the wool there.

“I’d say the majority of the NHL uses that trick. It’s been successful for the 30 years I’ve been doing it.”

Due to time constraints the logos, which normally would be painted on by hand, are printed on fabric and will be frozen into the ice after the lines are down.

“It goes into the ice like a blotter. It sucks down into the sheet like a paper towel would drop into water,” Loverock said. “You drop it in slowly and build ice over top of it. We just roll the cloths out and stick them on the ice.”

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