NEW YORK—The National Hockey League announced Thursday that it had finished freezing an estimated 480,000 gallons of water, ensuring that every opening game of the 2010-2011 season would be played completely on ice.
Ice-making factories have reportedly been working around the clock for the better part of a month, and dozens of insulated trucks were employed to transport the slabs of frozen water to all 30 professional hockey arenas, some of which are located as far south as Los Angeles, CA or Sunrise, FL.
"We learned our lesson last year," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters. "We started freezing water a week before the season, and by the opening face-off only eight arenas had ice. It was embarrassing because not only did we not deliver as an organization, but you really need to play hockey on water that is frozen."
"We also now completely understand—and agree—that all parts of the rink have to be covered with ice," Bettman added. "Even the parts behind the nets."
A shortage of frozen water on hockey rinks in the beginnings of previous seasons meant that players were forced to adapt to less than ideal conditions, skating on whatever frozen water was available and then trudging clumsily over the exposed dirt or wooden floors.
Historically, teams have not been pleased with having to play hockey on mixed surfaces, complaining that injury would often result when someone tried to retrieve a puck that had fallen into gaps in the corners of the rink where ice was not present.
The last time the NHL froze enough water to completely fill all the rinks with ice by the opening of the season was 1972.
"As hockey players, we prefer to play on water that's been frozen expressly for the purpose of playing hockey," said Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who watched as NHL technicians lowered a 200-foot-long, 80-foot-wide slab of ice onto the playing surface of Jobing.com Arena. "Ideally, there should be ice in the middle of the rink, right where you leave the locker room tunnel, in front of the benches. Pretty much everywhere, really."
Continued Doan, "We wear special skates for the purpose of locomotion on a sheet of frozen water, after all."
In order to avoid repeating the mistakes of past seasons, representatives of the NHL Players' Association contacted the league in August to be certain that sufficient water was being frozen for the season's opening. In addition, Commissioner Bettman hired Mindy Donegan in the offseason to act as Senior Vice President of Frozen Water Oversight.
Donegan's main job was to work as a liaison between arena managers and frozen-water providers, thereby ensuring all arenas had ice by opening night.
"Working with Mindy was great because, well, look at that perfect, rink-shaped sheet of ice out there," Rangers facility manager Phil Hesselbein said. "Last couple seasons at Madison Square Garden, we were scrambling to cover the floor. We gave fans $5 off ticket prices if they brought a bag or tray of ice from home, and even the players were going to liquor and grocery stores to get some."
"A lot of it was in cube form, or even cylinders with a hole through the middle, so it wasn't smooth to skate on," Rangers captain Chris Drury said. "But it was better than nothing."
NHL officials told reporters they were pleased with their efforts this season, citing the fact that all hockey games thus far have been played on ice.
"This is certainly a new era in the NHL," a press release from the league read in part. "We'd like to thank the players for being patient during the preseason and extend particular gratitude to the NBA for allowing us to play exhibition games on their courts in our stocking feet."
When asked if the league had a plan to solve the age-old problem of the frozen water thawing and becoming liquid by the third game of the season, Commissioner Bettman said investigations were continuing.