All About Ice

This post is going to be a thrilling ride into the ice of hockey, so buckle your seat belts…

Fast and slow ice

Surely any water below freezing is ice? Not in hockey.

Fast Ice Slow Ice
Harder and “colder” Softer and “warmer”
Less chippy May have a rough surface
Easier to pass and skate  

During a period, the quality of ice changes hence why the Zamboni gets brought out to improve the texture. On slow ice, a player is less likely to stick handle and more often just makes a safe play. Controlling the temperature is key to  maintaining the ice; for example, many figure skaters prefer ice that is soft for their landings. A rough standard is -9°C for hockey and -5.5°C for figure skating.

Research into ice has discovered a quasi-fluid layer that coats the surface of it and makes it slippery; this layer has even been found on ice in temperatures below -129°C. Depending on the temperature, this layer of water changes thickness – warmer temperatures have thicker layers whereas the more extreme colds will have layers only a molecule or two thick. As more skates hit the ice and slosh through the layer, there is more friction that slows players down and warms the layer (think energy transformations) creating warmer ice which is slower ice.

Ice in the Arena

Before a season begins, a refrigeration system pumps freezing salt water through a pipe system that runs through a large amount of concrete known as the “ice slab”. As the slab cools, layers of water are added and once these freeze, they are painted with the team’s logo, face-off circles etc. More layers are frozen on top until this ice is about one inch thick. This ice will stay in place for the duration of the season.


The essential tool used for ice maintenance is the Zamboni, named after its creator Frank Zamboni. Originally, a scraper was dragged round by a tractor to smooth an ice surface then the ice was coated with water to rebuild it. This process was laborious so Frank invented the Zamboni. Good old Frank. The machine scrapes the surface and collects the snow which is discarded later. As the machine travels it cleans the ice by flushing water into any grooves in the surface thereby loosening dirt. Any excess water or debris is collected by the machine. Finally, the Zamboni lays down a layer of heated water that becomes a smooth surface when it freezes. The hotter the water, the more even the surface is. The standard temperature of this water is around 60-63°C.


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