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The Hidden Heroes of Hockey!

Ice technician on a zamboni at an outdoor skating rink

Ice technician on a zamboni at an outdoor skating rink (IdealPhoto30, iStockphoto)

Ice technician on a zamboni at an outdoor skating rink

Ice technician on a zamboni at an outdoor skating rink (IdealPhoto30, iStockphoto)

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Let's Talk Science
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Ice Technicians use math and physics in order to keep the ice ready for hockey.

When you think of ice hockey heroes, who do you think of? Sidney Crosby? Maurice Richard? Wayne Gretzky? P.K. Subban? Hockey players have to train and practice hard. But all that practice would go to waste without ice technicians maintaining the rink.

The Science of Ice Rinks

Think about water in its three states:

  • Between 0°C and 100°C, water is in its liquid state. That’s the water we use for drinking, bathing, and cooking.
  • Above 100°C, water is in its gaseous state. This state is known as water vapour. We can’t actually see water in this state.
  • Below 0°C, water is in its solid state. In other words, it’s ice.

Misconception Alert

Steam is made of invisible water vapour and droplets of liquid water. The water droplets are the part that make it look white and cloudy.

If you’ve ever played or watched hockey at an indoor arena, you know the arena itself isn’t necessarily below 0°C at all times. (Hockey ticket sales probably wouldn’t be as high if they were!) So how does the rink stay frozen?

Well, water itself freezes at 0°C. But if you add other substances to the water, you can change the temperature at which it freezes.

Brine, a saltwater solution or sometimes glycol, a sugar-based solution, travels through pipes under the concrete floor of ice rinks. Thanks to the salt or , the water in these pipes can remain liquid but stay cold enough to keep the ice above the concrete frozen solid. A similar process keeps outdoor rinks frozen in places like Toronto.

How do you build and maintain an ice rink?

  1. Add water so that it forms a thin layer of ice on the concrete floor.
  2. Paint the ice with white paint.
  3. Add more layers of ice.
  4. Paint team logos, lines, face-off circles and goal creases.
  5. Add more layers of ice.

 

Technicien de glace (2015) by Plumelibre (3:07 min.) 

Did you know?

The NHL estimates that approximately 40 000 litres of water is used to make a rink.

The whole process takes about 48 hours. Now the rink is ready for the season. And who oversees this process? That unsung hero, the ice technician!

Math and Physics at the Rink

People who are responsible for the ice need to calculate the volume of the ice. Volume is the amount of space something occupies. When water freezes, it expands. In other words, it takes up more space. Has a pipe in your house ever broken in the winter? That’s probably because the water in it froze. As the ice formed, it pushed outward against the pipe, causing it to crack. Water can even break rock when it freezes!

To calculate volume, you need to know an object’s length, width and height. Ice technicians know these measurements for the ice rink. That means they can calculate the volume that the ice needs to be. Once the ice is made, ice technicians must monitor the temperature and thickness of the ice. They make sure the ice is the right volume for the rink.

How do technicians keep the ice smooth?

As skaters skate around the ice, their blades shave some of the ice off the surface of the rink. This can lead to ruts in the ice and piles of ice shavings. These imperfections in the ice surface can make it bumpy and dangerous. Ice technicians have a piece of technology specially-designed to solve this problem - the Zamboni.

Ice Rink Resurfacing | How Do They Do It? (2018) by Discovery UK (2:37 min.).

A Zamboni is an ice-resurfacing machine that helps the ice technician maintain the ice once it is made. A box at the back of the Zamboni, called a conditioner, contains a blade and a pipe. First, the blade shaves a layer of ice from the surface and pushes snow shavings out of the way. Next, a pipe sprinkles warm, purified water from a tank to fill the holes and grooves made by skates. Finally, a cloth towel dragged behind the conditioner spreads the water evenly, creating a smooth layer of clean new ice on the rink. 

Electric ice resurfacer at 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games
Electric ice resurfacer at 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games (Source: Chase N. [CC BY-SA] via Wikimedia Commons).

How do hockey players like their ice?

In general, hockey players prefer to skate on something called fast ice. Fast ice is colder, harder and smoother than slow ice. Slow ice is softer and rougher, maybe containing a bit of snow. As you can guess, you can skate a lot faster on fast ice! It’s also better for passing the puck and scoring goals. But over the course of a game, ice gradually gets softer. That’s why you see the Zamboni on the ice between periods.

So the next time you see ice technicians, remember they are hockey superstars, too!

Starting Points

Connecting and Relating

  • Have you ever wanted to drive a Zamboni? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever skated or played hockey on rough or uneven ice? How did it go?
  • Do you think the technicians who make and maintain the ice on a hockey rink get enough recognition? Why or why not?

Connecting and Relating

  • Have you ever wanted to drive a Zamboni? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever skated or played hockey on rough or uneven ice? How did it go?
  • Do you think the technicians who make and maintain the ice on a hockey rink get enough recognition? Why or why not?

Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment

  • What are some environmental and economic impacts of maintaining an indoor ice surface year round? 
  • In what ways is having an ice rink available year round a benefit to society? 

Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment

  • What are some environmental and economic impacts of maintaining an indoor ice surface year round? 
  • In what ways is having an ice rink available year round a benefit to society? 

Exploring Concepts

  • Why is it important to know that the density of ice is less than the density of water when making an ice rink?
  • If ice sheets were made from brine (salt water), how would this affect the density of the ice? How would this affect the quality of the ice? 
  • How are the markings and white colour added to an ice rink? 

Exploring Concepts

  • Why is it important to know that the density of ice is less than the density of water when making an ice rink?
  • If ice sheets were made from brine (salt water), how would this affect the density of the ice? How would this affect the quality of the ice? 
  • How are the markings and white colour added to an ice rink? 

Nature of Science/Nature of Technology

  • Should we rely on technological innovations to help us reduce the amount of water used in ice making or should we avoid those actions and activities that use large amounts of water? Explain.
  • A lot of math, science and technology is involved in the production of arena ice. Do you consider the people who make arena ice to be “scientists”? Why or why not?

Nature of Science/Nature of Technology

  • Should we rely on technological innovations to help us reduce the amount of water used in ice making or should we avoid those actions and activities that use large amounts of water? Explain.
  • A lot of math, science and technology is involved in the production of arena ice. Do you consider the people who make arena ice to be “scientists”? Why or why not?

Media Literacy

  • Media outlets often address the science and technology involved in the development of players’ equipment. Should the media also discuss the science and technology involved in the production and maintenance of the ice surface? Why or why not?
  • What role, if any, should media outlets play in helping people develop an understanding of water conservation practices?

Media Literacy

  • Media outlets often address the science and technology involved in the development of players’ equipment. Should the media also discuss the science and technology involved in the production and maintenance of the ice surface? Why or why not?
  • What role, if any, should media outlets play in helping people develop an understanding of water conservation practices?

Teaching Suggestions

  • This article supports teaching and learning of Math, Physics and Technology & Engineering related to states of matter. Concepts introduced include ice technicians, brine, volume and fast ice. 
  • After reading the article and viewing the embedded videos, teachers could have students Use a Print-Video Venn Diagram learning strategy to help organize and consolidate the information from these sources. Ready-to-use Print-Video Venn Diagram reproducibles for this article are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] versions. 
  • To further consolidate learning, students could create a graphic organizer or an infographic to explain the states of matter of water. 
  • To extend technology learning related to this topic, students may enjoy learning about the invention of the Zamboni, by reading Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni's Ice Machine: Great Idea Series by Monica Kulling.

Teaching Suggestions

  • This article supports teaching and learning of Math, Physics and Technology & Engineering related to states of matter. Concepts introduced include ice technicians, brine, volume and fast ice. 
  • After reading the article and viewing the embedded videos, teachers could have students Use a Print-Video Venn Diagram learning strategy to help organize and consolidate the information from these sources. Ready-to-use Print-Video Venn Diagram reproducibles for this article are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] versions. 
  • To further consolidate learning, students could create a graphic organizer or an infographic to explain the states of matter of water. 
  • To extend technology learning related to this topic, students may enjoy learning about the invention of the Zamboni, by reading Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni's Ice Machine: Great Idea Series by Monica Kulling.

Learn more

Making Ice Nice Since 1949: A Brief History of the Zamboni (2010) 

Curious about how Frank Zamboni invented his machines? Read this article by Mental Floss.

Fun Facts about Zambonis

Read some fascinating and funny facts about the well-known ice resurfacers from Zamboni.com.

Properties of Water 

Article from Home Science Tools on how water is one of only a few elements in the world that can exist in three states of matter, and all in your water glass! 

References

Exploratorium. (n.d.). Fast ice and slow ice.

Kershner, K. (2013, February 25). How zambonis work. HowStuffWorks.

Let’s Talk Science. (2019, July 23). Keeping the rink on ice

NBC News Learn. (2012, January 25). Science of NHL hockey: Mass, volume & density.

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