Slow Motion Struggles on a Sheet of Slop

Cup'pa JoeLet’s stipulate that by virtue of being a distinctly busy, multi-use venue — home to the Hoyas, Wizards, Mystics, Caps, an annual horse show, various figure skating events, scores of concerts — the Verizon Center is metaphysically prohibited from achieving a sheet of ice quality enough to rank in the NHL’s top third. Due merely to schedule duress it simply cannot aspire to the uniform smoothness, to the black-ice-in-Banff quality of surface commonly found in comparatively quiet venues such as those in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, or the Joe in Detroit.
Let’s stipulate further that climate change wreaking the havoc it is believed to have by its proponents, that Washington winters aren’t assuredly cold for three straight months, as they once were (in this blogger’s youth, in fact), making for an additional ice maintenance challenge.
And let’s also stipulate that the Midatlantic region is plagued by distinctive humidity, in all four seasons, and that that’s not the case in NHL towns like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Jose, among others. That’s not to say that those places don’t know their share of heatwaves, and even moderate-to-oppressive mugginess in patches, but nothing on the scale of the Midatlantic’s mid-summer misery. Humidity, along with exposure to sunlight, looms as an ice sheet’s most potent enemy. It’s why rinks in the region spend lavishly on air circulation systems.
So the challenge ever confronting the Verizon Center maintenance staff is formidible. And yet, in other sections of the American Southeast, and West — Atlanta, Tampa, Nashville, most especially Dallas — we hear none of the outrage directed at the ice sheets that we have here this season. It gets quite hot and muggy in Florida, you know. But is it so daunting a challenge that the Caps’ ice should be lodged not only 30th in quality out of 30 teams but in fact worse than those played on by most of the region’s scholastic teams? It is quite literally the case that the Caps practice on a sheet of ice appreciably superior in quality to the one they contest their games on. That’s outlandish and intolerable.
Can you imagine Daniel Snyder being informed that the DeMatha Stags junior varsity footballers labored on turf superior to that of FedEx Field? Well DeMatha’s JV and varsity hockey teams skate on better ice than the Caps.
Washington’s surface, whether in Landover or downtown, has never been regarded as moderately good or better than mediocre, even in the peak of winter. But there’s something particularly pernicious about the ice here this season. It’s being referenced with disgust by players and visiting coaches on a nightly basis. Tom Poti on Monday night called Verizon’s ice “embarassing.”
With assets the likes of the Alexes — whose skills can only improve in proportion to the quality of the surface they compete on — how can Capitals’ management allow the team to compete on a surface inferior to Tampa’s?
In Moscow last spring I shared a cab with an entrepreneur working behind the scenes with the NHL on its outdoor hockey games. He told me that today the technology exists to carry off an outdoor NHL game contested on a quality surface . . . in Florida . . . in October. In the years ahead, it’s highly likely that we’ll see outdoor regular season games played in some surprising locales.
Today in D.C. conditions for a hockey game downtown tonight really couldn’t be much better for this time in the calendar. The air outside is dry and crisp, the temps brisk. In any other big-league city, 45 or so NHLers tonight would compete on a reasonably decent if not good sheet of ice. The Caps and the Panthers, however, will not.

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11 Responses to Slow Motion Struggles on a Sheet of Slop

  1. Mark Tucker says:

    Nice post! Ted, are you listening? THIS is something you certainly can do something about, right?

  2. Meza says:

    As a former ice tech and having received extensive training in Canada my first tips are drop the slap temp and lower the overall building temp. If you listen to almost any Canadian broadcast they all seem to reference how cold the overall building is. Maybe even update the dehumidifiers to keep the air dry.
    Just my 2 cents.

  3. Chimaera says:

    It has been poor for a while. Now it is unreasonably bad.
    I know some of that is the fact that the Verizon Center is used a ton, but that’s no excuse for it to be AWFUL.

  4. Rage says:

    What are comparable venues? LA? NYR? Atlanta?
    How does their ice compare? The ice always looks like crap when I go to games at MSG, and they have to squeegee it to remove the pooled water after the zamboni-ing each period.

  5. Meza says:

    MSG has the worst in the league due to it’s over use. The new Staples Center in LA, I have not heard about their ice nor Atlanta’s.

  6. TG says:

    Just a reminder that Ted doesn’t own the building. He’s just a tenant. Any and all complaints should rightfully go to Abe Pollin and his organization.

  7. Jordan says:

    I’m pretty sure the team will make a formal complaint if they feel it necessary. I don’t think that we, as spectators, would have much say in the issue.

  8. Grooven says:

    Maybe people are looking at this all wrong. Afterall, it’s called home-ice advantage for a reason. Maybe they need to make Kettler not-so-nice, so the Caps can get the knack for playing on choppy or uneven or slushy or whathaveyou. That would be 41 games with a decided advantage over the opponent if the Caps can do it.
    Football, soccer, baseball… they all have something to utilize. Domes, artificial turf, mud, elevation, snow, heat, grass, direction in relation to the Sun, distance to walls, etc.
    “Bad” ice doesn’t have to be bad.

  9. Smitty says:

    Old man Abe owns the building. All Ted can do is whine, and I hope that’s what he’s doing – a lot.

  10. The Peerless says:

    Watching the Caps on that ice, I get the impression that they are a team constructed to play on an ice sheet like that in Edmonton, when they really need to be a team that is “uglier” in style — banging in loose pucks and rebounds from close range.
    Cute won’t work on that ice sheet.

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