The Making of an Ice Rink

Published by Michael Keeley, Maine Mariners Media Relations and Broadcast Manager

Painting ice is definitely not a one-person job. (photo credit: Jim Gailey @countygovguy on Twitter)

When I first heard that my services were going to be requested to help "paint the ice," in preparation for making Cross Insurance Arena hockey-ready for the 2018-19 season, I wasn't sure what to think. I envisioned myself nervously painting the blue line, hoping not to accidentally drop a splash of paint outside the path. I was trying to picture exactly how long it would take to paint the line across 85 feet of ice. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to pick up a paintbrush, but I got an up close and personal look at the process that involved gallons of paint, dozens of people, and hours and hours of hard work.

Post bull riding and pre ice making.

The operations crew at Cross Insurance Arena had a daunting task in front of them as the week of Sunday, September 16th began. Their mission: transform the arena from a Professional Bull Riding (PBR) ring to the home of the Maine Mariners hockey team in just over 24 hours. 750 tons of dirt out, an unknown amount of gallons of paint in, and the feat is now complete. But that makes it sound a lot simpler than it actually was.

Professional Bull Riding put on a theatrical show at Cross Insurance Arena on September 14th and 15th. (photo credit: Natalie Tobey)

By the morning of the 17th, after all the dirt, bull stables, platforms, risers, and screens were moved out, an empty floor surface awaited the transformation into a hockey rink. Walking down toward to the North end of the arena near the Zamboni entrance, I first saw a large barrel mixing water and powdered paint into a mixture that would eventually cover the ice. Attached to the barrel was a long hose and a motor with a particularly stubborn starter string.

A mix of water and powdered paint creates the first signs of ice on the floor.

When the motor finally got cranked up again after some serious elbow grease, our crew of about 8 in total, headed out with the hose. Those of us "untrained," had a pretty easy job - hold up a section of the hose while keeping it in line with the path of the painting crew up front, keeping any kinks out, and trying to minimize hose contact with the floor (or at least keep it from freezing to the floor). Cross Insurance Arena Director of Operations, Jim Leo was the man doing the painting using a "spray boom applicator" - a long sprinkler-like tool with multiple spouts. The paint-water mix sprayed out of the spouts, spreading splotches of white around the surface. We moved in all different patterns: horseshoe, zig-zags, and laps. With each coat of paint, we tried less and less to touch the hose to the floor. It was like a less-serious game of "the floor is lava."

Can't miss a single spot! Our fearless leader, Jim Leo leads the way. (photo credit: Jim Gailey @countygovguy on Twitter)

It was very important to wipe the bottom of your shoes clean after every trip on and off the floor, as to not track footprints on top of the paint. An individual, who will remain nameless violated this rule and is forever inscribed in the 2018-19 Cross Insurance Arena ice surface. Certain spots were covered with white sheets of paper to improve consistency, and bolts were drilled into future faceoff dots, to help with the eventual painting of circles. After several layers of paint were applied, one last run with water helped seal it all in.

Wipe your feet before stepping on!

After a process that took a solid two hours in all, the Mariners staff had to return to the office, but the painting continued with the addition of the lines, circles, goal creases, and every other marking a hockey rink requires. Although I didn't help in the painting of lines, I noticed that strings were tied to the boards and used to guide the way. I like to think I wouldn't have messed that up, but you never know. Overall, it's a lot of manual labor for a final product that appears almost 'stickered' on.  

All in a day's work. No, seriously - this all happened in less than a day!

After the paint is dry, mesh-like ice logos are carefully laid and flattened, setting the stage for final step: surfacing the sheet with layer upon layer of water, to freeze and build up ice. By Monday night, the logos were placed and by Tuesday, ice was being frozen on. Less than 48 hours after bull riding was cleared out, we were just about ready for hockey. From working nearly ten years in hockey, I already knew that getting a rink ready was no easy process, but the hard work of the Cross Insurance Arena staff, and the results in so little time, with a relatively small crew, should be applauded.

Is it October yet?!

There are still tasks to be completed, of course. Glass needs to go up, dasher board ads applied, and goalposts painted ECHL-blue, just to name a few. Cross Insurance Arena will hold many other non-ice events leading up to and throughout the Mariners season, but the hard work is done and the home of the Mariners is well on its way to welcoming pro hockey back to Portland as the calendar flips closer and closer to October 13th.