Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena checks all the boxes to have “good ice,” as NHL players call it.
It’s located in a relatively cool climate. It’s monitored by brand-new technology. It’s not home to an NBA team, so the ice isn’t being regularly covered up by a basketball court.
But there’s just one problem: The ice is created with rainwater collected off the roof in stereotypically eco-friendly Seattle fashion. That makes a difference, hurting the arena’s standing in the league’s ice hierarchy.
“It’s not the same,” said former Kraken forward Colin Blackwell, now with the Blackhawks. “It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that great.”
Many NHL players think about this subject much more than they publicly admit, and with good reason.
Just like the outfield dimensions at major-league stadiums, the qualities of ice in NHL arenas — smoothness, hardness, resilience over the course of each period — can vary widely.
“[It’s best] when the puck is moving really crisp and flat, [with] not too many bumps, and it’s fast, not slow,” defenseman Caleb Jones said. “You hear some guys say, ‘The ice is slow’ when it feels sluggish. It [should be] really crisp. You feel like your blades are on top of the ice.”
Added forward Patrick Kane: “Just smooth, hard ice [is best]. You’re able to feel it without having to look down and worry about going over any ruts or anything like that.”
Everyone has specific preferences.
“It varies [from] guy to guy, for sure,” forward Reese Johnson said. “Some guys will think certain ice surfaces are good, and you come off and you’re like, ‘What the heck?’ ”
Canada tends to dominate the consensus rankings. Montreal’s Bell Centre, Winnipeg’s Canada Life Centre and Edmonton’s Rogers Place were mentioned by far the most often in the Hawks’ locker room.
Whether or not the arena employees and Zamboni drivers in Canada are more knowledgeable and experienced, those arenas also benefit from their frigid climates and relatively limited non-hockey event schedules. The latter factor might actually matter more than the former. Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, home to the Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Raptors, was tellingly never mentioned.
On the other hand, it’s hardly a surprise that New York’s Madison Square Garden, Boston’s TD Garden and Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena frequently were named the worst. Those arenas host something almost every night.
“It’s just harder for teams that are in warmer places,” forward MacKenzie Entwistle said. “The humidity gets to [the ice]. You even notice it [in Chicago] when the temperature is changing in the spring — the ice gets a little more soft and chewed up a little bit easier.
“[In] L.A., it’s also too many concerts. Like [at] MSG, there’s three things a day, so the ice always has things on top of it.”
The temporarily installed ice at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, where the Hawks hosted a preseason game, supposedly was awful. Defenseman Seth Jones couldn’t restrain himself from mentioning during his Oct. 2 postgame news conference that it “wasn’t fantastic by any means.”
Blackwell said the ice at the Islanders’ dilapidated former home, the Nassau Coliseum, was the worst he’d skated on in his life.
Johnson was worried when the surface at Carolina’s PNC Arena felt slushy for the Hawks’ Dec. 27 morning skate, but conditions improved by game time.
Kane, meanwhile, offered positive reviews for the ice at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center — although he might be somewhat biased as a hometown kid — and Minnesota’s XCel Energy Center.
Ultimately, sometimes the best ice feels “just like a backyard rink back in the day,” in Johnson’s words: cold, hard and unforgiving.