Advertisement
  1. Lightning

They chopped up the ice at Amalie Arena and threw it in the dumpster

A bulldozer dumps ice from the Tampa Bay Lightning rink into a pile during the ice removal process at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, May 7, 2019 in Tampa. The process started at 6 a.m. and took several hours to complete. ALLIE GOULDING | Times
Published May 8

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 cspata@tampabay.com or follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) waits his turn during drills on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp at the Ice Sports Forum. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Tampa Bay doesn’t have many roster spots available, but the positions within the lineup are still taking shape.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jimmy Huntington (47) takes a bite out of his stick blade while taking with goaltending coach Frantz Jean on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Tampa Bay has had success with undrafted players like Tyler Johnson and Alex Barre-Boulet.
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning's Cory Conacher (89) looks to pass the puck with Carolina Hurricanes' Clark Bishop (64) reaching in during the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game, in Raleigh, N.C, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. KARL B DEBLAKER  |  AP
    Tampa Bay falls into the same penalty trap as first game: way too many. Preseason isn’t off to an ideal start.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning players on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp at the Ice Sports Forum on September 13, 2019 in Brandon, FL. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Tampa Bay’s training camp roster is reduced by six.
  5. Cal Foote (left) and his brother Nolan will play for the Lightning in a preseason game tonight. It's a moment they've long anticipated. Tampa Bay Times
    The brothers will play together as Nolan gets his first preseason game on Wednesday.
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) looks for an open teammate during the first day of HL hockey training camp Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, in Brandon, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP
    Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn will make their Lightning debuts against Carolina on Wednesday night.
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning center Mitchell Stephens (67) defends against Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (22) who challenges in the Tampa Bay zone during the first period of the preseason game on Tuesday, September 17, 2019, between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes at Amalie Arena in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    There were flashes of promise, like good play from Mitchell Stephens, but not a great showing for Tampa Bay
  8. Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper gives direction during drills on the first day on the ice at the beginning of training camp. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    In the first four games of the preseason, Lightning coach Jon Cooper wants to see how prospects have developed.
  9. At 23 years old, Tampa Bay forward Brayden Point already has 91 career NHL goals, including 41 last season. Now that his entry level contract has expired, Point is looking for a big payday but the Lightning has salary cap issues. CHRIS O'MEARA | AP Photo CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP
    John Romano: History says restricted free agents almost always stay put, and there’s too much at stake for Tampa Bay to allow this impasse to go on.
  10. The Tampa Bay Lightning has tapped Cigar City Brewing to bring its Jai Alai, Guayabera, and Florida Cracker beers to Amalie Arena as the team’s official craft beer partner. (Photo via Tampa Bay Lightning) Tampa Bay Lightning
    Cigar City also will move its popular annual Hunahpu’s Beer Festival to Amalie Arena starting next March.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement