The Latin Romans and the St. Ignatius Wolfpack kick off High School Hockey… (Hilary Higgins/RedEye )
Building the first ice rink at Soldier Field isn't as simple as constructing an oval, sticking a hose in the middle and turning on the faucet on a cold winter day.
"You can't make ice that fast," Kevin Gift, senior project manager for Ice Rink Events, said matter-of-factly.
He should know. Gift and his crew have spent the past three weeks carefully building and maintaining the rink that is hosting the first hockey games in the stadium's 89-year history. Creating the ice that four college hockey teams will skate on Sunday is a painstaking process that requires time and attention to detail.
"Everything starts with just a light spray," Gift said. "Hopefully you can build about a 16th of an inch of flood and then you just have to build it in layers, otherwise it doesn't freeze right. It gets pockets of air under it then it pops out when they skate on it. That causes holes and that can cause an injury. It's a slow process."
Below the surface of the ice is enough pipe to stretch from Chicago to Schaumburg, carrying antifreeze that ensures the ice stays between an ideal 22 to 24 degrees.
"There's 41 miles of tubing in this rink," Gift said. "When we're making ice—when we first start out—we chill the antifreeze at zero and pump it through the tubes. When you add the water, it freezes to the tubes and then it starts building up."
It's a process that's been complicated by Chicago's wacky winter weather.
"It's been a battle," Gift said. "From 65 [degrees] and then two days later, it's 1 degree. It's been very hard on the ice."
While the finished product is the materialization of a dream more than two years in the making, getting to that point is anything but.
"Just getting everything here, it's a logistics nightmare," he said. "This rink came from Ohio and part of it came from Houston. The antifreeze we use came out of a job that we had in Mexico."
Of course, Gift's crew aren't the only workers prepping for Saturday.
Soldier Field general manager Tim LeFevour has had employees wake the field from hibernation, making sure everything from the concession stands to the seating bowl are in midseason form.
If all goes according to plan, LeFevour said this likely won't be the last time we see pucks dropping and red lamps lit at the home of the Bears.
"I think they're gonna take a long hard look at this and see if we can make this happen every once in a while," he said.
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
Hockey City Classic
Sunday at Soldier Field
Notre Dame vs. Miami (Ohio), noon
Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m.
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