One cool system

Neither Zamboni nor Olympia, Ice Guard is the fanciest of shovels

30.04.2009
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Zurich  SWITZERLAND

This little device helps create the flattest, truest ice in the world. Photo: Jukka Rautio / HHOF-IIHF Images

ZURICH-KLOTEN – Andreas Pedrerol and Kurt Amhof are not familiar names to hockey fans, but their role here in Kloten during the World Championship is a special one. They are the “eismeisters”, the men who take care of the ice for the hockey games.

What makes their work particularly interesting, however, is that they are not flooding the ice with a Zamboni, the traditional machine, or even an Olympia, the main and modern rival to Zamboni. Instead, they are using a system called Ice Guard. It is the most high tech system you can imagine, and to understand how it works requires a keen knowledge of science more than of shooting and passing and scoring goals.

Here’s how it works. First, there is a transmission unit that is stationed off ice, between the players’ benches. This works in tandem with a receiver that is attached to the top of the resurfacing machine itself. The two units monitor every square centimetre of the ice as the machine makes its way around the rink to ensure that it is perfectly flat. The transmission measures the surface of the ice in relation to the highest point of the concrete floor underneath.

Every fractional difference in ice thickness is immediately detected and a blade then scrapes away the exact amount of ice to ensure a uniform thickness, never more than 0.8 centimetres, though, as per the crew’s directions. When they first used the machine, the blade would do a fair bit of scraping, but now that they have been using it since February most of the scraping is minimal.

“The worst parts are usually along the boards,” Pedrerol noted, “but in the middle of the ice the blade moves only a little bit now.”

Every morning they still do a manual check of the ice, drilling tiny holes in all areas of the ice to measure thickness the old fashioned way. Here in Kloten, Pedrerol and Amhof like a thickness of 3 cm, and they keep the ice temperature at -6° Celcius. The temperature, too, is constantly being adjusted based on factors such as outside temperature, day or night, and, of course, the difference when there are 6,000 fans in the building or when it’s empty.

The crew also paints the ice in a unique way. After building up an initial layer of ice, they paint it white by mixing chalk with water and sprinkling the surface. Another layer goes on and then it’s time to make the lines and add the ads. These are all done without the traditional method of paint. Instead, it’s all laid out with strips of paper which have the designs and writing. The paper has thousands of little holes and is placed on the ice. More watering bleeds the image onto the ice, much like a temporary tattoo. Then, a final layer of ice is made to create the actual playing surface.

The Ice Guard system is Finnish and was first used in arenas in Uusikaupunki, a town on the west coast of Finland. Since then many other cities in the country have used the system, and Sweden has now caught on. It’s being used here in Kloten primarily for the World Championship, after which the arena will decide whether or not to keep it.

Of course, the most important factor is whether the players notice. “They haven’t said anything,” Amhof acknowledged, “but we think that’s a good thing. The less we hear the better we think it’s working.”

ANDREW PODNIEKS

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