TAMPA — Some describe the ice at Amalie Arena as “a sort of a living, breathing organism.”
It was taken off life support Monday night.
The roar went quiet behind the double doors marked DO NOT ENTER. Refrigerant stopped pumping through the coils that vein from the ice plant compressors to the concrete below. Power consumption at the arena dropped 20 percent.
The ice got soft, and before sunrise Tuesday, members of the ice crew were there busting it up with Chick-fil-A-sponsored shovels.
It was time. The Tampa Bay Lightning hadn’t played on that ice for nearly four weeks. The Lightning’s historically great season ended with an outrageous first-round playoff sweep shortly after. The last, just-for-fun staff hockey-game, with a front-office executive in the goal and Zamboni drivers facing off against aging former players, was played last Thursday.
Front-end loaders rolled into the rink Tuesday and scooped and piled the mess at one end, making an icy hill under the 2003-2004 Stanley Cup champions banner. Pieces of cloth printed with the names of the Lightning’s “higher tier partners,” whose names had appeared on the ice all season representing many thousands of dollars in sponsorships, were twisted in with the white chunks.
What was left of the red and blue lines made the loads of slush look like giant snow cones, though someone pointed out how much of the players’ spit was in there. It was hauled out back, the ice dripping down a hallway, and dropped in a dumpster where the Florida sun would do the rest.
More than just a record-tying NHL hockey season happened on this ice. Community heroes were honored. High schoolers won a hockey championship. Police officers played firefighters. The Lightning sled hockey team scrimmaged. There were fantasy camps, and Rink of Dreams games where adults paid good money to get close to that ice. Kids learning to play for the first time got to skate that ice.
As the morning went on, the remaining ice melted into what looked like milk, pushed to the middle with squeegees so it could be vacuumed up before it was poured down a drain.
The Lightning and Amalie Arena have about 200 full-time employees, and many hundreds more part-time employees who work behind the scenes. Only a handful were around to walk up to the edge of the rink.
Sad to see.
I can’t watch.
It’s like seeing a car wreck cleaned up.
“It’s always a lot more exciting going in than going out,” said spokesman Brian Breseman, who started with the team as an intern in 2001. “Even if you win the cup, this part is still sad.”
The ice crew, out there destroying the thing they’d coddled and measured and patched and worried over for the past seven months, was not nearly as precious about it.
They’d battled the Florida heat. Constantly monitored the ice’s condition. Sprayed it and smoothed it and adjusted the climate precisely when 20,000 people got rained on and carried that ice-threatening humidity into the arena.
The ice crew must stay in constant contact with hockey operations during the season. They arrived at 7 a.m. on game days and left well after the final buzzer. Even when the team was on the road they were working that ice. The 15 people on that crew are like a family, they say, and some, like ice operations manager Patrick Jesso, who works alongside his father and brother, actually are.
Many who work at Amalie Arena will tell you they feel like they’re part of the team in a way. Take Karen Jo Muschiette, an usher since 1995 who wears a championship ring while giving enthusiastic tours of the arena every game day.
Those on the ice crew, though, “feel like we have a little more insight than most,” Jesso said. They’re just so close to that vital ice for so long.
In the middle of a season, the carnage seen in the middle of the rink on Tuesday morning would be the worst of their nightmares. In May, it’s a bittersweet part of a season’s natural life cycle.
“It’s just the last cold day for a while,” said Kim Linton, a corporate consultant and part-time member of the ice crew, holding a squeegee. “It’s cleansing. It’s yin and yang, wax on, wax off. We always know we’ll be back.”
Everyone agreed they would have liked to be doing this deed in June, of course, but most seasons, for most teams, do not end with championship rings. What are you going to do except show up ready for work?
It takes a few hours to ruin the ice. It takes several days to rebuild it.
In a month and a half it will be the draft, then development camp, free agency, the prospect tournament, training camp.
Around late August, they’ll begin again, with a layer of nearly pure water, 1/16th of an inch thick. They’ll paint it pure white and repeat until it’s ready to hold the weight of another season.
Contact Christopher Spata at email@example.com or follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.