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The Ice Center Ice at the San Jose Arena
Center Ice as viewed from the press box at the San Jose Arena.
One of the most unique aspects of hockey is the surface on which the game is played: the ice itself. The players talk about the quality of the ice; they've helped coin the terms "fast ice" and "slow ice." Scientists, on the other hand, are still studying the chemistry of the ice. In just the last few years, there have been major discoveries which have changed our understanding about the nature of the ice.  

In this section, there are RealAudio and video clips from Sharks defenseman Doug Bodger, chemist Gabor Somorjai of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and San Jose Arena ice maker Bruce Tharaldson.

Fast Ice and Slow Ice

Anyone who has watched a hockey game on television has heard the announcers use the the terms "fast ice" and "slow ice," or even "good ice" and "bad ice." What's the difference? Fast ice is harder and colder with a smoother surface, while slow ice is warm and soft and may have a rough surface. For the players, the difference seems to be that "fast ice" is less "chippy" and there is less "snow." Passing and skating are easier when the ice is "fast." The quality of the ice differs during the course of the game and it even changes how teams play the game. Sharks defensemen Doug Bodger told us, "At the end of periods when the ice tends to get 'snowier', and the puck tends to bounce a little bit, you might not try to 'stick-handle' as much-you might just try to get the puck out the zone." In other words, players tend to make a safe play rather than a finesse play when "slow ice" or "bad ice" conditions exist.

San Jose Shark Doug Bodger
The San Jose Sharks' Doug Bodger discusses fast ice and slow ice.

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Oh, Canada

Certain arenas seem to have better ice than others. Bodger thinks the difference is the hardness of the ice. Rinks in Canada are well known for the quality of their ice. Edmonton in particular was mentioned by Bodger as having fast ice. Why is the ice so much better in Canada? One of the differences may be climate. Bruce Tharaldson, the ice maker at the San Jose Arena, cited deliveries to the arena as a concern. Opening the delivery doors of the arena and letting in heat and humidity is a problem in San Jose, California. This is not as much of a concern for a rink in Edmonton, Alberta, especially in the middle of winter. Apparently, the freezing and refreezing of the ice brings impurities to the surface.

Ice Maker Bruce Tharaldson
Ice maker Bruce Tharaldson discusses how the temperature of the ice is changed when preparing for hockey as opposed to figure skating.
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Keeping the ice cold is one of the keys to maintaining fast ice. Bruce Tharaldson keeps the temperature of the ice at sixteen degrees Fahrenheit (-9 centigrade) for hockey and twenty-two degrees (-5.5 centigrade) for figure skating. Apparently, the figure skaters prefer softer ice for their landings and the six-degree temperature difference provides that.

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