Finding ice in Chicago during February is not difficult. Making 200 feet of ice strong and flat enough for a college hockey game is a different story.
A computer-generated preview of the rink inside Soldier Field that will Notre Dame and Miami on Sunday.
The skating surface that has survived inside Soldier Field during the past three weeks is a project two years in the making. It has been almost a year since the team at Ice Rink Events did its initial walkthrough of the home of the Chicago Bears to lay out the ice for the Hockey City Classic — a college hockey double header that features Notre Dame, Miami, Wisconsin and Minnesota. In recent weeks the surface has survived 30 mph winds and temperatures that ranged from 0 degrees to 65 degrees.
“The weather was really hard on us,” said Kevin Gift, the project manager on the ground in Chicago. “It’s a 24/7 job. …We’re ready for pretty much whatever Mother Nature can throw at us. And she’s thrown a lot at us, too.”
Gift has been building outdoors skating facilities for the past 16 years. He recently returned from a six-week tour of erecting rinks in South America before getting to work in Chicago.
The ideal setting for Sunday’s games (Notre Dame plays Miami at noon and Minnesota plays Wisconsin at 3:30 CT) is roughly 40 degrees with overcast skies, according to Gift. That's cold enough for the ice to stay in good shape and warm enough for fans to enjoy themselves.
Other than the NHL’s Winter Classic rinks, which the league constructs itself, Gift and his company have been the architects of just about every rink to host a major outdoor American hockey game in the past decade. Here’s a rough sketch of what it takes to make it happen:
3.5 Inches of ice from top to bottom needed to create a surface thick enough to be painted and playable.
8 Ice technicians that will be on the field Sunday to patch holes and soft spots as needed. Among the tools at their disposal will be carbon dioxide fire extinguishers used to instantly fill and freeze any cracks that appear on the ice.
11 Months since Gift and his team did their initial walkthrough to determine how to orient the rink for the best access to locker rooms, Zambonis and a good fan experience.
21 Degrees is the ideal temperature of the ice for game time. Too much colder and the ice will create pockets that pop; too much warmer and it will become soft and hard to navigate with speed.
28 Miles of tubing filled with coolant that coil beneath the 200-by-85-foot rink to help regulate the temperature of the ice.
400 Tons of “chiller” stored in a pair of massive tanks inside the stadium that flows through those pipes.
700 Man hours needed to build the rink from start to finish. Gift’s team of 10 men worked 10-hour days for a week to complete the project in early February.
$50,000 The cost to level Soldier Field’s playing surface. Builders used Styrofoam and other materials to get rid of the four- to five-inch difference in elevation from the middle of the field to the sidelines, a crown that is used to drain water on rainy days.
$300,000 The approximate overall cost to build a hockey rink on Solider Field.