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How does the Amalie Arena ice stay frozen in July?

It’s hot. And humid. And in Florida. Here’s how the Lightning maintains NHL-grade ice.
Tampa Bay Lightning players lead from the bench and rush to the ice to celebrate their 1-0 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at Amalie Arena on Friday, June 25, 2021 in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning players lead from the bench and rush to the ice to celebrate their 1-0 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at Amalie Arena on Friday, June 25, 2021 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 2
Updated Jul. 6

When Mikhail Sergachev slammed Brendan Gallagher onto the ice in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, blood gushed out of Gallagher’s forehead and onto the ice.

Patrick Jesso sprung into action.

Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher leaves the game with blood streaming down his face in Game 1.
Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher leaves the game with blood streaming down his face in Game 1. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Jesso is the assistant manager of ice operations for the Tampa Bay Lightning. His cameo came with 6:18 left in the third period of Game 1 as he rushed onto the ice to clean up the blood. He used surgical precision with his ice scraper to shave and smooth the ice. Co-worker Kevin Losier shoveled the contaminated shavings into a biohazard bag, and the ice was once again ready for play.

That’s one of many times Jesso has tended to the ice before, during or after Lightning games. Keeping the ice suitable for an NHL contest is not an easy feat in a state known for its heat and humidity, especially during the summer months.

“The hotter it gets, the more of a challenge it is,” Jesso said. For the Stanley Cup final, he said supplemental equipment was brought in to keep everything just right.

The process of keeping the ice in playing condition in June and July is not wildly different than earlier in the season. The crew monitors the temperature and humidity throughout the day and game, consults with the engineering staff and uses previous playoffs as a template. One tweak they made for the summer months is leaving the HVACs on during off days to cope with the humidity.

Amalie Arena ice stays well, icy, largely thanks to the underground ice plant, which consists of 10 miles of piping that pumps glycol at 15-18 degrees underneath the ice. The arena is kept between 55-60 degrees and dehumidifiers maintain 55-58 percent relative humidity. Jesso said Florida’s climate makes humidity a bigger issue for the ice crew.

“It’s easier to lower the temperature than get rid of the humidity,” Jesso said.

Why did that piece of ice fly into the air? Is that skate mark too deep? Does this air feel too moist?

Those are some of the countless questions Jesso and his team have running through their minds. The NHL requires the ice to be between 20-23 degrees and in addition to the temperature and humidity, Jesso and company monitor the ice quality closely.

If he is seeing large pieces of ice fly up when skaters make hard cuts on the ice, it’s too cold. When a skate’s grooves run too deep, the ice is too warm.

“We like to have the [skate grooves] ideally on top of the surface,” Jesso said. The optimal conditions are when the ice is “hard, fast and dry.”

Jesso watches the skaters during warmup and throughout the game, but once the game starts, his job gets extra fun when he follows the puck to make sure it isn’t bouncing. He gauges if the ice is causing any game-altering bounces, and if it is, he’ll toggle with the temperature of the freezer the frozen pucks are stored in so the new ones are ready. If that doesn’t work, they’ll turn to the ice plant.

“I look at the puck the majority of the time. It’s hard to say that without smiling because it’s kind of funny that I get to get paid to do that,” Jesso said.

After the game, the ice crew refills the ice to fill in all the divots and chunks. Throughout the game, Jesso and the other crew members are mostly just cutting and smoothing the ice so by the end, the rink is usually in need of a replenishment. They flood the ice in a process they call “cleaning up” to get it back into practice or game condition.

The only additional ice during the game comes courtesy of the Zamboni. The machine cuts ice and smoothes, but it adds small amounts of water to pack divots as it shuffles across the ice.

The Lightning are up 3-1 as the series comes back to Tampa, so Jesso and company will be back in action for Game 5.