The league will play its 25th outdoor game March 3 in Annapolis when the Washington Capitals play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The matchup will be just the third played in March and is part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.
Workers began arriving in Annapolis over the weekend to transform the field into a hockey rink in time for the faceoff at 8 p.m.
“Right now we’re on schedule to be making ice Thursday evening,” Derek King, NHL senior manager of facilities operations said Tuesday at a news conference in Annapolis. “We’ll get to where we want to be on game day, which is about 2 inches thick of ice. We’ll be ready for practices on the 2nd.”
Instead of just taking a garden hose into a backyard and flooding an area and waiting for the temperature to fall, the National Hockey League uses a special technology to create an ice rink fit for the best hockey players in the world.
The process takes about seven days and will begin once the foundation of the rink is down.
“Every game that we get to do in different cities is really exciting, especially being here at the Naval Academy is pretty cool,” said King, who’s participated in roughly 15 of the outdoor games. “We have the equipment to manipulate whatever we need to, so we’ll be in good shape.”
As the members of the media gathered at the stadium Tuesday under sunny skies with temperatures approaching 70 degrees, the big question was if the weather will be an issue.
“If we had a day like this on game day, I’d have no concerns,” King said. “We’ll have the ice covered throughout the day, and then when the sun leaves the field we’ll uncover.”
To accommodate its outdoor games, the NHL created a one-of-a-kind mobile refrigeration unit and rink system. The 53-foot-, 300-ton-capacity unit make a solid sheet of ice while removing heat from the surface and then stabilizing the temperature.
Once the ideal surface temperature is reached, the actual process of building the ice begins. Typical thickness of ice inside an NHL arena is approximately 1 to 1.25 inches. The outdoor rink requires up to 2 inches to help withstand the more extreme elements. There is no special water used to make the ice, either. King says the water used is the same tap water used in a home.
“It’s a basic refrigeration unit, no different than what you’d see in an NHL arena, except we’ve put it inside a 53-foot trailer,” King said. “We’re using ammonia for our refrigerant along with glycol. The pipes are connected and are running down to the field and we’ll start making the ice Thursday evening.”
Once the ice is down, monitoring the status of the ice is a 24-hour job. A high-tech system called Eye on the Ice is embedded in the surface and helps to provide updates on the temperature at different areas of the ice and will signal an alert if more glycol is needed or if the heating system needs to engage if the weather gets too cold.
Along with a few former Washington Capitals players, Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley and Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Walter E. “Ted” Carter attended the press conference Tuesday. While Naval-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium has a smaller capacity, average attendance for outdoor games is 53,504 per game.
By the numbers
A look at what goes into an outdoor NHL game like the one set for March 3 at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
34.9: Average temperature for the previous 24 outdoor NHL games.
200: Workers will spend one week building everything needed for the game.
300: Ton capacity of refrigeration trailer that will keep the ice cool.
3,000: Gallons of glycol coolant used to freeze the rink.
20,000: Gallons of water needed to create a two-inch ice surface.
96,500: Pounds of the refrigeration unit that travels to the NHL outdoor games.