When the Penn State hockey seasons ended in the middle of March, that was it for Pegula Ice Arena, right?
The ice was melted and the sticks, pucks and nets were stashed until October.
The first day of summer may be a few days away, but a fresh sheet of ice was just laid down in the new arena, and the first of the team’s summer camps begins Sunday as the home of Nittany Lion hockey hosts more than just games.
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While the thermometer was already climbing through the 70s to accompany heavy humidity outside the building on Wednesday, inside it was quite chilly as the rink staff was preparing the ice for a new year of action.
Rink manager Chris Wittemore detailed the process, from the bare concrete floor to the finished product that takes several days to complete.
Melting and renewing the ice is standard procedure for most rinks. Wittemore said some buildings that house NHL teams may go through this process three or four — or more — times a year.
It keeps the ice fresh, but it allows for changes to logos and sponsors on the ice.
The final event on the ice of the main rink was the kickoff event for the Coaches Caravan on May 1, after which crews began removing the ice. First they shaved it down, then turned off the cooling pipes that flow in the cement floor, let it warm overnight, chipped at the ice and scooped it away.
The cement floor was ready to host a number of events after that, including the Happy Volley club volleyball tournament in late May to the State College Area High School graduation last weekend.
Then, the floor temperature was dialed down, and they put down 4-5 layers of water with a wand for a fine mist. The floor was painted white with three coats of “glorified food coloring,” according to Wittemore, before another 5-6 layers of ice went down.
On Wednesday morning a crew of eight began to paint the floor — the lines, the creases, the dots, the advertisements and the logos — in a process that takes about six hours before even more layers of water went down.
It left the floor ready for the USA Hockey Camp starting Sunday.
Believe it or not, the ice is actually considered “soft” right now and will improve once it gets some use.
“Actually you want skates, people to skate on it,” Wittemore said. “As you skate on it, it actually gets harder. When you first put this down, when we first start skating on here, it is going to be fairly soft.”
The men’s team has four more camps scheduled for July, with two for high school-age athletes and two for younger children (bantams and pee wees), and a girls camps is set for the last week of July.
The new building has spurred a lot of interest, with applicants from Canada and the West Coast looking to skate in the building, according to head coach Guy Gadowsky.
“There definitely has been an increase in interest,” Gadowsky said. “Moreso from further away. I guess there are a lot of hockey players that want to target Penn State to come see it. They want to show themselves to us as much as they want to see (the arena).”
The tough part is that Gadowsky and his two assistant coaches will not all be at the camps each day. They spend most of their summers recruiting — Gadowsky figures he has had two weekends home with his family since Christmas — and it doesn’t let up even if seasons are completed. Gadowsky is at a USHL camp this weekend.
“We try to spend as much time at the camps as we can,” Gadowsky said. “Trust me, we wish that summer was a couple more months.”
However, Gadowsky said the preferred instructors are the Nittany Lion players. Many of them are in town taking summer courses and working out.
In addition to the camps, Al Karosas, the acting general manager for the building and associate GM of the Bryce Jordan Center, said there are a number of other small events planned for students, including activities for the incoming freshmen.
With the building still less than a year old, there have been a few bugs that have had to be figured out, but not as many as anticipated, according to Karosas. Once they are working a little more efficiently, they hope to lure an NHL team to State College for a preseason training camp — though that is not expected to happen this year.
“We have someone near and dear to the building that has a little connection to some NHL hockey,” Karosas said wryly, referring to Terry Pegula, whose $102 million donation made the building possible and who is the principle owner of the Buffalo Sabres. “We want to make sure we have the building ready if that day comes. We’d love to have it happen. You never know what the future holds for us.”