New technology keeps RBC ice flat

Laser equipment shows ice's thickness

Staff writerOctober 14, 2010 

— Donnie MacMillian says the RBC Center ice is perfectly flat.

Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal isn't so sure.

"Just the way the puck slides, it will turn one way or the other as it goes down the ice," Staal said Wednesday.

MacMillian, the building superintendent, is the man in charge of having the RBC Center ice surface hard, smooth and flat.

He's also armed with some new technology to back up his claim.

The Hurricanes use Olympia ice resurfacers rather than the Zambonis often seen in many NHL ice rinks. MacMillian said the Hurricanes last month became the first NHL team to install Olympia's computerized laser system to ensure a flat surface.

Before, MacMillian said he would drill 15 to 20 holes all over the ice sheet to gauge the thickness of the ice around the rink.

"We knew how much ice we had, but we didn't know if it was flat," he said.

Now, MacMillian said he needs just one hole, a one-inch-deep "benchmark" near the goalie crease in the north end of the arena. He drives to that spot on the Olympia resurfacer and keys the spot into his on-board computer. The info is sent to the laser "command center," a small red unit attached to the top of the glass at mid-ice near the team benches.

The unit sends a beam of light - or "ceiling" - over the ice surface, with that signal being sent to a receiver on the Olympia resurfacer.

"The laser tells me what the thickness is, and it automatically adjusts the blade (on the Olympia) down to cut the ice and levels the ice to one inch from one end to the other," MacMillian said. "It flattens it right out. The ice is perfectly flat to five-thousands of an inch, and all over the sheet."

MacMillian said the laser system costs about $25,000. But it's worth it, he said, especially when events such as "Disney on Ice" are held at the RBC Center.

"We have our ice level for hockey, and we build ice over it for Disney," he said. "I can build up the ice an inch and half extra. I can then hit a button and it will automatically scrape down to the hockey ice again and be perfectly flat."

Then again, MacMillian still has to convince the Hurricanes players it's flat. He said the players like to kid him about the ice at the RBC Center favoring the other team.

"They like to say it's tilted the other way," MacMillian said, smiling. "Well, not anymore."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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