How Do They Make Ice Hockey Rinks?

Posted on May 9, 2022 by Dan Kent
hockey rink

Unsurprisingly, a lot of work goes into creating an ice rink. The playing surface must be built methodically and maintained to allow for an ideal playing environment for the teams. The making of indoor and outdoor rinks can involve a different process — as outdoor rinks rely on the freezing temperature of the air itself.

Indoor skating rinks use cold concrete to create the ice for the hockey rink. Once a rink is first installed, metal piping is laid inside of the concrete which will then produce the freezing temperatures required to create the ice surface. The water is frozen one thin layer at a time until the rink reaches an inch or so thick.

This process is methodical and careful so that the rink is the proper texture for players to skate on.

Some people may be wondering how in the world an indoor rink stays frozen. Outdoor rinks make more sense, as ponds can freeze over when the temperature reaches a low enough level. However, an indoor rink in Texas is a whole different story.

First, concrete is installed in whatever arena the ice rink is to be built in. Inside of this concrete is special metal piping that glycol is then pushed into, which freezes the surface of the concrete. Once this process is complete, water (around 1/32 inches thick) is spread onto the frozen concrete and in turn, freezes almost immediately.

What is under the ice in an ice rink?

Within the first few layers, a white coat is painted onto the ice. This creates the contrast you see between the rink and the black puck. All of the lines and logos are also painted during this stage by a team of people with an eye for detail.

Several more layers of water are spread over the painting to protect it during play. This entire process, from freezing and adding layers and painting those layers, can take up to four days to complete. In total, 45,000 to 57,000 liters of water may be used to create an ice rink.

Once the rink is completed, it can be maintained throughout the season. It doesn’t need to be taken apart and rebuilt for every game — as this would be very inefficient and costly (financially and labor-wise).

How Do They Maintain Indoor Ice Rinks?

Photo by kris krüg licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Maintaining the ice is a process in and of itself. If not properly cared for, the surface of the ice can begin to degrade as people skate on top of it. This leads to unpleasant ice and can potentially become dangerous if the ice catches someone’s skate and causes a fall.

As fans are aware, Zambonis clear away the chipped ice away and discard of it. Then, they place a fresh layer of water onto the ice — which fills in all of the grooves and creates a smooth surface once again. This enables players to skate quickly and safely without having to worry about a rough icy surface.

Without a Zamboni machine, this process must be done manually with scrapers and hoses — which can of course take more time. However, for a small local rink, this may be the way to save money while still keeping the surface of the ice smooth.

Professional hockey teams often have multiple Zambonis that can clear the ice in a matter of minutes. This allows the ice to be resurfaced between periods so that play can resume within a short period of time. During the game itself, you may notice that during pauses there are often people who come and scrape the extra ice away.

Ice Hockey Rinks Doubling As Basketball Courts

For the fans who aren’t aware, many professional hockey rinks also double as basketball courts. These two seasons overlap, so you may be wondering: how can hockey be played one day and basketball the next?

Taking the Staples Center in Los Angeles as an example, where the Los Angeles Kings and the Lost Angeles Lakers play, insulated boards are placed on top of the ice before the basketball court is built. Removing the glass and the boards can turn the hockey rink into a basketball court in a matter of hours.

Instead of taking four days to build a new hockey rink, the rink is left in place once the season has begun and it is simply worked around when necessary. Once the hockey season is over, the rink can be completely taken apart until next year. To do so, the ice is melted and everything is cleared away by a crew of people.

Next time you’re at an NBA game — check to see if the arena also hosts an NHL team. If so, you can imagine the ice rink underneath the basketball court. There’s no need to worry about your favorite player slipping around while they’re trying to make a basket, as the insulated wood plus all of the pieces put together for the court weigh a great deal and aren’t moving around anywhere.

Maintaining an Outdoor Ice Rink

The process of maintaining your outdoor rink is similar to an indoor one. However, you’re dealing with outdoor elements such as bugs and other debris. Also, you have to rely on the weather instead of a concrete slab with metal piping running through it.

Pond rinks are common up north and many generations of children have played pickup hockey games on top of them. Ensuring the ice is completely frozen is an important step, as it can be dangerous if a child were to fall into the freezing water.

If it has recently snowed, you’ll want to clear all of the snow off the top surface of the ice. You can do this with shovels or a snowblower. This process is important as any snow left behind can turn into an uneven surface once you flood the pond with fresh water.

If the frozen pond is close to a home, you can use your typical garden hose to add fresh water. However, if the pond is in a more remote location or is too large for the hose, you may need to drill a hole into the pond and allow the water to come up and freeze across the surface. This can be time-consuming but it’s a necessary procedure if you want to keep skating on the surface.

The Science Behind Ice Rinks

While creating an ice rink, especially an indoor one can seem like a complicated process — it’s really just the science of freezing temperatures and how they affect water. Proper ice maintenance is crucial if you want to ensure the surface stays healthy all season long. Even without access to an expensive Zamboni, you can manually “flood” your surface with fresh water to fill in any grooves left behind from skates.

There are a lot of necessary steps to complete before an ice rink is ready to be played on professionally. The paint needs to look clean and neat and it requires precise measurements to ensure all of the lines are in their proper locations.

All in all, next time you’re at a hockey game you can watch as the Zamboni goes around and simultaneously scrapes the ice and places a new layer of water down. It’s an effective visual for how the ice rink is built itself — just with many layers of water instead of one.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada,

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