Thursday, February 12, 2009

Defending DC's Ice

Chris has a story up on WCH noting the poor condition of the ice at Washington, DC's Verizon Center, host of this year's Frozen Four. CHN has a story here.

Capitals players have voiced concerns in the past, but have recently gone to the media, with the Washington Post chiming in. This is making the media rounds here in DC, from the Sports Bog to the excellent Capitals-related On Frozen Blog. The Washington Post outlines the major issues:
NHL facilities operations manager Dan Craig, the league's ice guru, said the league is aware of the players' complaints and has been monitoring the situation since he visited Verizon Center in October to meet with building engineers and Capitals officials.

Craig said the NHL recommends 60 degrees and 40 percent humidity for hockey games and that Verizon Center measured 62 degrees and 37 percent humidity at the beginning of Saturday night's contest. But that wasn't good enough to produce a crisp sheet of ice.

Earlier in the day, the Georgetown basketball game went to overtime, delaying the conversion of the arena floor from basketball to hockey. Meantime, basketball players demand warmer temperatures inside, and that, coupled with an unseasonably warm day outside, put a strain on the arena's cooling system. Craig said the inside temperature rose steadily throughout the night.

Craig also said the relatively new sheet of ice could have posed a problem. It was laid during the all-star break, which was Jan. 23-26, and ice takes 10-14 days to fully "mature." Verizon Center, which hosts 220-230 events annually, removes the ice three times each season -- for the horse show, the truck pull and circus. It was removed during the all-star break for the truck pull.

The building's schedule also had an effect, a team official said. Generally, scheduling hockey games after basketball games results in less than ideal ice. The Capitals, though, were reluctant to give up a highly coveted Saturday night date.


So, the issues listed are 1) basketball games on the same day, and 2) full removal of the ice for the circus and other events. Though not listed, the conspiracy theorists amongst the Caps fans will tell you (as insinuated by On Frozen Blog) that 3) the building needs more AC and De-humidifiers, but Wizards owner Abe Pollin (who also controls Washington Sports and Entertainment, the arena's owner) is too stubborn, too cheap, or just doesn't care enough to pay to put them in - and Caps owner Ted Leonsis (also a partial WSE owner) doesn't have enough control to overrule him.

The facility is obviously not going to undergo a major renovation between now and April, but college hockey fans shouldn't have anything to worry about. Looking back again at the list of reasons for bad ice, the Frozen Four will take place long enough after the circus is in town to let the ice "mature." There also will not be any basketball games held there during the FF, as the NCAA demands complete control of the arena. As Chris also points out, there won't be any basketball games period at the arena during the entire week of the Frozen Four, allowing staff to keep the arena cool and the ice fresh.

Chris at WCH goes a little over the top in comparing DC to the debacle in Cincinnati:
Still, these concerns bring back memories of the debacle of the 1996 Frozen Four in Cincinnati, considered by most to the be most poorly hosted Frozen Four of all-time. A worker at the Riverfront Coliseum, which was not primarily a hockey building, drilled in the wrong spot on the ice, causing a leak in the ice's refrigeration.
The Verizon Center may not have the best ice in the NHL, but it's still an NHL arena. Sheer incompetence on the part of the arena staff won't be a problem in DC.

Likewise, Chris takes the next step and asserts that perhaps the FF shouldn't venture too far off the beaten path, looking for 'destination' places to host college hockey's premier event:

Some of these issues have to bring about questions about the importance of having a "destination" Frozen Four. I understand the people that travel to the event annually want to go to different cities, and the bigwigs that make these decisions enjoy being wined and dined by the various bidding cities, but at a certain point, don't the safer pick where you don't have to worry about this kind of thing become more attractive?

...

I doubt people would ever get too tired of holding the Frozen Four in a nice, hockey-crazy city like St. Paul or Boston. It's hit-or-miss with the adventurous Frozen Fours, but the reviews for those two cities always seem to be rock solid. Plus, you'll never have to worry about what the players are skating on.

I completely disagree with this line of thinking. For one, the connection between ice quality and location is specious at best. For another, I don't think moving the FF around is specifically about growing the game, I think it's about moving it around. Places that have longstanding NHL and hockey connections, but lack collegiate ones, like DC, Philly, St. Louis, and others are great places to host this game. More importantly, they're great places to host any sporting event.

DC is chock full of alumni from just about every school around the nation - I always like walking around town on fall Saturdays, spotting the various college sweatshirts of people representing their football teams. Add in the fact that the Caps are now the hottest ticket in town, and this is a great place to host an event like the FF.