- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2012

With the Metro underneath and so many events there beyond hockey Verizon Center, the ice surface there has been the subject of ridicule for quite some time. A few years ago ex-Washington Capitals captain Chris Clark called it the worst ice in the league, and Tom Poti compared it to a “bouncy ball.”

So it’s enough of a concern on a normal day, but with the temperature expected to approach 90 degrees Monday, the chances of bad ice increase substantially.

“Especially the rinks nowadays with the basketball courts on it, too, They start to get choppy real quick, I think a lot choppier than if it was colder outside,” forward Keith Aucoin said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re just careful with the puck in the neutral zone because you know it’s going to be bouncing.”

Players said they weren’t terribly concerned, especially because the Boston Bruins have to skate on the same ice surface. But those at Verizon Center in charge of the conditions are being very proactive in making sure the unseasonably warm temperatures don’t adversely affect Game 3 on Monday night.

“The guys who drive the Zamboni and maintain the ice, they’re looking for it whether it’s January and it’s 30 degrees out or it’s april and it’s 90 degrees out,” arena senior vice president and general manager Dave Touhey said in a phone interview. “But when it’s April and it’s 90 degrees out, that’s an abnormality. When it’s 90 degrees out, you pay more attention to it.”

That means several layers of protection, including turning the temperature down from the usual mid-to-upper-50s down to the lower 50s. While that seems like a small change, it can make a big difference.

The Wizards played Saturday night, so staff members were able to complete the changeover from basketball court to hockey rink then, allowing the surface to sit for a couple days.

“We normally have processes that we go through to maintain the NHL standards. Now we’re taking readings every hour to make sure where we are as opposed to just monitoring it,” Touhey said. “We’re just monitoring it more closely to make sure that we’re down where we want to be.”

But preparing for a hot day like this means plenty of interaction among Verizon Center employees and an emphasis on keeping the air in the arena colder, starting with something as simple as shutting doors.

“There’s only so much different we can do. In these cases, though, we pay closer attention to the temperature knowing that once people start coming in the temperature will rise,” said Touhey, who pointed out that opening the arena to fans just an hour before a playoff game was a concerted effort to keep things cool. “Throughout the day we try to keep the doors shut and to use doorways that have second sets of doors so we can keep kind of outside air out of the building as much as we can.”

Touhey said event staff will be on watch before and during the game.

“Sometimes when it’s nice out someone will prop a door open or a door will stick. Tonight, there will be people looking at that,” he said. “If that happens tonight, people will be going around making sure they get closed.”

On the ice, players know what to expect as far as conditions when outside heat permeates an arena.

“It is hard. You’ve got to get a lot of fluids in you. You sweat quite a bit,” forward Jay Beagle said. “You’ve got to be well-hydrated. I like to take a little shorter shifts.”

With the ice expected to be a little choppy even with plenty of work done, Caps players said it doesn’t change much about their game.

“I think it just gets more simple,” Beagle said. “It’s just harder to stick-handle and make crisp passes.”

But this series hasn’t been full of crisp passes and dynamic offense so far, anyway. Because of that, it could be perfect for the Caps and Bruins.

“It might be good. It’s one of those series where there’s not much ice out there anyways,” Aucoin said. “Both teams are getting the puck in deep and grinding it out down low. I don’t think it so much slows the game down; I think you just see the puck bouncing a lot more and guys a lot more careful.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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