Freezing The Tundra

Making ice in Green Bay, Wis., in the middle of February shouldn’t be too difficult.

Keeping it there as thousands of pairs of skates go over it is the hard part, and the job Texas-based Ice Rink Events is in charge of for Saturday’s Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic at Lambeau Field.

When Wisconsin and Ohio State get together, it’ll be after a week and a half of on-site preparation that included five tractor-trailers of equipment, 32 miles of tubing, parts of rinks last used in California and about 110 hours of work.

Ice Rink Events makes skating surfaces everywhere — including a recent job at a oceanside hotel in San Diego, Calif. — but Lambeau Field holds a mystique that carries beyond just the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

“No doubt, this is an exciting job, first of all because it’s an exciting place to be,” said Mike Clayton, the general manager of Ice Rink Events. “Just about everybody is a Green Bay Packers fan, and to be working on the floor of Lambeau Field with all the names of historic football around you is a thrill.

“It’s also challenging because this is for a regulation NCAA game, and so given the conditions and the potential for weather and all that, we’re under pressure to make it as perfect as possible given the weather. That’s the primary challenge.”

Starting Feb. 1, a crew of about 40 to 50 people began constructing the playing surface for college hockey’s first outdoor game since the 2001 Cold War between Michigan and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium. The Frozen Tundra Classic won’t come close to that game’s world attendance record of 74,554 — the game has a capacity of about 40,000.

The system that is being installed in Green Bay is the same model that was used to stage an NHL exhibition game in a parking lot outside Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in 1991. Developed by CALMAC Manufacturing Corporation of Englewood, N.J., the IceMat II is a modular system of tubing that allows the ice to be kept at about 10 degrees.

Ice Rink Events will assemble 29 sections of the rollout system, each measuring 7 feet by 85 feet. The sections connect together and all are fed by 6-inch PVC pipe to a portable refrigeration system sitting on the back of a 48-foot trailer.

A nontoxic coolant circulating through the system keeps the ice at the proper temperature.

The pieces being installed in Green Bay were used in recreational skating rinks in three California cities — Fresno, Monterey and Walnut Creek — over the holidays.

The Lambeau Field setup also involved pieces of plywood covering the grass to create a level surface.

“We don’t want to do damage to any of the systems in the stadium such as the field or the underground heating system, so a lot of precautions are taken there,” Clayton said. “It’s also a very quick install, less than one week, and to get all that accomplished does take a lot of logistic planning.”

The installation appeared to catch a break when there was no heavy snow or rain during the critical parts of the ice-making process. Extremely cold weather can still cause trouble by leading to cracking, but the Ice Rink Events employees will use hot water on top of the ice surface in an effort to prevent that.

They’re responsible for everything from the rink construction to the intermission ice resurfacing in Saturday’s game, as well as during public skating events Friday and Sunday.

“Whatever happens, we’re going to deal with the elements and do whatever we have to do to make it right for the players and the fans that are going to come out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Clayton said.