It’s two days before the Colorado College men’s ice hockey season begins and the team at the World Arena has their game faces on.
Making ice is one of their specialties. And while Colorado College hockey games only represent 22 of the 250 events each year in the World Arena, hockey is a big part of the arena’s identity and a business that takes special teams and a strong offense to pull off.
“There is a lot of behind-the scenes that goes into a hockey game,” said Dot Lischick, World Arena general manager. “It’s not just, throw out the puck and let’s go.”
The World Arena at 3185 Venetucci Blvd., opened 12 years ago and was always meant for multiple purposes from concerts to monster truck shows. The 8,000-seat arena also is one of about six sports venues in Colorado Springs, including Norris-Penrose Event Center, Security Service Field, U.S. Olympic Training Center, the U.S. Air Force Academy and Gallogly Events Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
The arena has always been home to Colorado College Tigers men’s ice hockey team, where inside the locker rooms, Tigers Coach Scott Owens has fresh flower arrangements delivered for the pristine gold- and -black room — and no one dares step on the painted Tiger mascot.
Lischick declined to give the arena’s annual revenue, but said 2010 was a very good year.
“We’ve been in the black every year since we’ve been open,” she said.
The Tigers sold 160,000 tickets or an average of about 7,000 tickets a game last season — the highest sales at a winter collegiate event in the state — and officials expect even better this season. For Colorado College, hockey brings in $2 million in revenue each year, said Scott Lowenberg, Colorado College assistant athletic director. Hockey is the top revenue producer for the World Arena every year, he said.
“Our entire athletic program is funded by the college and hockey,” he said.
On game nights, it will take a team of nearly 300 people to play in the fast-paced game of the hockey business. They will make food, stock concessions, work the kiss cams and instant replay, work the doors and parking lots and — of course — tend to the ice with two giant Zamboni ice-resurfacing machines.
Making ice is an art. The thickness has to be just right, said Eric Harnick, ice operations manager. And making the ice starts the day after a hockey season ends. Harnick’s team begins maintenance on the refrigeration units that keep the ice rink at 18 degrees. The 12-member ice crew also makes repairs on the four Zamboni resurfacing machines and ensures the 77-inch blades are razor sharp.
Meanwhile, Allan Long, director of event services for the Ice Hall, prepares the Tigers’ practice and game schedule. The team sometimes practices in the adjacent Ice Hall, where there are two smaller rinks, one 100-by-200 feet and one 85-by-200 feet. The team practices in the Ice Hall when the arena is taken over by other events like concerts or circuses — something that might happen about a half-dozen times in a season.
In August, the arena floor is “flooded” with 14,000 gallons of water. It takes three days to make a 100-by-200 foot floor of ice. The crew walks side to side with a hose, one inch in diameter, back and forth spraying about 1,100 gallons of water to build thickness on the ice floor, which will end up being about 1 ½ inches thick. Before the final layer of ice is made, the crew hand paints regulation lines, team logos and sponsors’ names into the ice.
“There is one thing that everyone will agree on,” Lischick said, “when the ice goes in the arena it’s a very cold day — all the sweaters come out.”
But prep work isn’t all about the ice. It’s also about the beer and food.
Kyle Kovalik, operations manager for Centerplate Concessions at the arena, orders about 200 to 500 pounds of food before each game. And, on game day, his staff will pop about 100 pounds of popcorn seed, a smell that even filters down to the staff offices in the basement.
It takes a full day for the Centerplate crews to roll out and stock a half-dozen “action stations” or food and beverage carts. One crew member reportedly walked 17 miles on one game night keeping the concessions stocked, Kovalik said.
All the permanent concession stands were remodeled a few years ago, so food is prepared fresh for each game, said Michael Baker, Centerplate general manager. Centerplate is a national company that specializes in sports entertainment and is the only contractor at the World Arena.
On game day, Chef Allan Schureman prepares all the special meals for the Tigers, the opposing team and all of the VIPs. And, he will make room in his refrigerator for 50 kegs of beer. He’ll do it for every game of the season.
“CC does like its micro brews,” Lischick said.
It doesn’t matter if Colorado College is in the throes of hockey season. If an event can be booked in the arena, it will be, Lischick said. That means ice either gets covered with large fiberglass sheets or, it’s taken out.
“So, when we have events here, it throws Eric (Harnick) into a fit,” Lischick said.
For example, in October an overnight crew will transform the arena from an ice hockey rink to a WWE wrestling rink and then the next day, back to an ice hockey rink. It takes about three hours to remove the sheets of glass that protect fans from flying hockey pucks and about 90 minutes to cover the rink with a fiberglass floor.
Samuel Trujillo, change-over supervisor, affectionately called “the vampire,” and his crew of 12, will work through the night installing the glass panels — each weighing 300 pounds — to be ready for the next morning’s hockey practice.
The preparation also takes place away from the World Arena.
Scott Caulfield, performance center manager for National Strength and Conditioning Association, sent the hockey team home for the summer with specific training and nutrition plans.
“Everyone came in this fall and obviously had done a ton of work,” Caulfield said. “Guys went up 50 pounds in certain lifts — it was impressive.”
The Tigers will open the season with an exhibition game at home against McGill University of Montreal, Quebec, on Oct. 2. The team ended last season with a 23-19-3 record and knocked off defending national champion Boston College, 8-4, in a regional semifinal of the NCAA playoffs.
“There is a lot of excitement about this season because of the finish last season,” Caulfield said. “I expect a lot of full houses.”
And while the hockey players have their little pre-game superstitions — rubbing a rabbit’s foot or juggling soccer balls, to name a few — Harnick says he has no rituals or game-day superstitions.
“It’s all preparation,” he said.
Still, when describing some past game-day fouls — shattered glass or a jammed garage door on the loading dock that forced the Zamboni through the arena tunnel to get to the rink — he said, “nothing like that has happened in a few years — knock on wood” as he wrapped his knuckles on the table.
Come Sunday, the World Arena team will find out how all of their game day preparations have fared.
“First thing in the morning on game days, the ice temperature drops to about 18 degrees and we monitor it throughout the day to make sure it stays there,” Harnick said.
The Zamboni will make a couple of sweeps over the ice, spraying water, at 165 degrees, to smooth the ice and fill in the ruts. And, then the 72nd season of Colorado College men’s ice hockey will begin.
And, that is how the World Arena team plays the game of hockey.