When the men’s and women’s hockey teams take to the ice in Ingalls Rink, it takes more than a strong fight to win. The Ingalls Rink operations staff must make sure the rink is ready for competition, and that takes more than a simple sweep of the Zamboni brand ice resurfacer.
The Ingalls Rink operations staff, which consists of an experienced team of five men on game days and four on non-game days, works from September through April to ensure that the rink is always at its prime.
Its most visible task takes place between periods of hockey games when two members of the staff drives the two blue Zamboni-brand ice resurfacers on the ice. The two boxy machines are each equipped with a sharp blade that removes the top layer of ice while leaving behind a smooth, glossy ice surface.
“We have some of the best ice sheets in the state,” George Arnaoutis, the Ingalls Rink operations lead assistant, said. “It takes a lot of man hours.”
But the Zamboni cannot resurface the edges of the rink. Ingalls Rink Operations Assistant Dave Lockery and Arnaoutis explained that the operations team must use a lawn mower-like ice-edging machine to level those rough patches on the rink.
Along with edging the corners of the rink, Arnaoutis said the staff must also occasionally hand chop blocks of ice that accumulate on the boards due to snow build up during games or practices.
In addition to resurfacing the ice an average of nine times per day, Lockery said the operations team also ensures that visiting hockey teams are accommodated prior to games and inspects the glass and boards.
The operations staff also must manage the temperature of the ice.
Lockery said that the ice is typically kept between 17 to 20 degrees Farenheit but is lowered when large crowds are expected to counteract the increase in body heat.
Managing the ice temperature has proven difficult at times.
Lockery said several years ago, prior to the Whale’s renovation, New Haven was experiencing unseasonably warm weather. The compressor to the rink, which is a major component of its refrigeration system, blew out and the operations staff had to relocate the game to the New Haven Coliseum.
“Operations is a tough job because you never know what’s going to happen,” Arnaoutis said. “Some days it’s nice and smooth, and other days there might be a glitch or two that you have to take care of.”
But Lockery added the team always manages to find a solution.
Arnaoutis and Lockery have nearly 60 combined years of rink management experience between them at Ingalls Rink, and even more years when including experience at other rinks.
Though Lockery never played hockey, he did spend many years on the ice as a referee. After a back injury prevented him from taking the ice, however, Lockery said he turned to the operations side of rinks and became a Zamboni driver. Lockery was an employee at the Hamden Rink when he received a job offer from Arnaoutis, who was looking for a Zamboni driver to work at Ingalls. Twenty-eight years later, Lockery still is part of the Ingalls team.
“It’s a good job, a great place to work, and great bunch of people,” he said.
Arnaoutis’ experience in the operations side of rinks dates back to his days as a competitive figure skater. In order to help pay for his training, Arnaoutis began driving Zambonis at the age of 15 or 16. Today, Arnaoutis is even a certified ice technician.
Arnaoutis has been an employee at Ingalls since 1980, when he was offered a job as a Zamboni driver at the rink after the facility he was working at prior to the Whale closed.
Still, Arnaoutis and Lockery both cited the opportunity to watch the Yale hockey teams compete at each home game as one of their favorite parts of the job.
Alyssa Zupon ’13, forward on the women’s hockey team, said she appreciates the hard work that the operations team does on a daily basis.
“We have one of the best facilities,” Zupon said. “It’s very important. At the college level all the little things make a difference so having a great facility to work in and having great ice to skate on is important for us.”
During hockey games, the majority of the operations staff is stationed in front of the Zamboni room watching the Elis compete. (In fact, Lockery’s cellphone ringtone is a recording of the Yale Precision Marching Band playing the Yale Fight Song.)
Arnaoutis and Lockery added that it was exciting to watch the men’s team reach such a high level of success in recent seasons.
Lockery said that last season members of the staff followed the men’s hockey team to Atlantic City to watch them compete in the ECAC Championships and also traveled to Bridgeport to see the Bulldogs compete in the NCAA tournament.
Though the Bulldogs’ title hopes ended with a loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the regional final last year, Lockery said he is confident that a national championship is on the horizon for the Elis. “They’re going to do it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
In addition to the men’s and women’s hockey teams, the ice is also used by Yale figure skating, club, youth and intramural teams.