About the same time you start slipping into your footie pajamas and settling down for the night, volunteer outdoor ice rink flooders are lacing up their boots and heading to the rinks.
Duluth’s outdoor ice skating rinks are maintained by dedicated volunteer hockey parents and UMD’s Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.
Without these volunteers, maintaining the over 17 outdoor rinks wouldn’t be possible for Duluth.
“It keeps the cost down,” Pat Hall said, a volunteer flooder at the Lower Chester ice rinks. Hall was one among three hockey dads flooding the rinks the Friday night, Feb. 15. His son plays hockey for Lower Chester.
The parents rotate flooding nights in accordance to a schedule they sign up for.
THE FLOODING PROCESS
The flooders arrive at the rinks around closing time.
Before they can do anything, the snow and ice shreddings left over from day skaters have to come off the ice. They grab shovels and brooms and go to work, clearing one rink at a time.
If there’s a lot of snow, they use a Bobcat tractor to haul the main load. The clearing process takes at least an hour, sometimes more.
Once the ice is clean, it’s polished with a Zamboni – a machine that can shave bumps off the ice.
Then, finally, it’s time for the flooding. A thick hose, long enough to reach the far corners of the rinks, is used to spray water evenly onto the ice.
When the water freezes, they go back and spray on more.
The goal of flooding is to fill in the cracks and add layers of ice onto the rinks so they are fresh and ready for skating by the next morning.
“There’s a lot of pressure coming out of that hose,” Jeremy Carlson said, one of the Lower Chester flooders on Friday night.
He has two children in the Lower Chester hockey program.
“I wear these cleats on my feet,” Carlson explained, pointing at his boots. “Otherwise, the hose will spin ya right around.
The hose is so long and heavy it takes three people to work it. The headman sprays the water, another helps hold it and a third person helps carry the hose to the next spot that needs to be sprayed.
FACING THE WEATHER
Flooders depend on cold, clear nights for successful ice layering.
“The colder the better,” Hall said, and added, laughing, “except not for us.”
He’d rather settle for 10 degrees. “It’s a pretty good temperature because it’s comfortable, yet the ice freezes pretty good so you can get a couple layers on.”
Unfortunately for Hall, it was below 10 degrees that night.
For Carlson, the cold wasn’t a problem, but the slightly snowy weather was.
“We just spent an hour and a half clearing off the rink and now it starts to snow,” he said, frustrated. “This is bad news for the ice, actually … If the snow gets on the rink while it’s settling, it creates all these little bumps.”
Usually in this situation, flooders would shave off the bumps the next morning with a Zamboni.
Only this time Carlson said their Zamboni broke earlier in the day.
“There’s a game here tomorrow at 1 o’clock and they’re just going to have to deal with some bumpy ice,” he said.
Over at the Glen Avon outdoor rinks in Duluth, flooders were facing the same problem.
“It’s a terrible night for flooding,” Eric said, a father of two Glen Avon hockey players.“Temperature-wise it’s good. But the snow is no good.”
He wasn’t too worried, though. “We’ll just shave it with the Zamboni tomorrow.”
Josie, a novice Glen Avon flooder and first season hockey mom, thinks flooding is a good thing for parents.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie in the community that’s built here by the parents at night, hanging out,” she said.
“We do it for our kids because they want to enjoy the sport. And, outdoor hockey is a big thing in Minnesota.”
Josie is one of few moms who helps flood the ice.
“It’s almost all dads out here,” she said.One of the guys flooding with her was a high school classmate and another, her husband. “It’s a little like hanging out with little boys all evening.”
Most hockey moms volunteer by working the concession stand inside the warming house during hours of play.
Jason Schafer, a junior at UMD and a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, said helping the flooders is one of his favorite volunteer activities.
“It’s like hanging out with everyone is why it’s fun,” he said. “That’s why I like that project. And, they let us skate around.”
The fraternity shovels the Lower Chester ice rinks Mondays through Thursdays. They also tidy up the warming house.
After all the hard work is finished, the Glen Avon flooders relax and share beers in the Zamboni shack.
“You get thirsty,” Eric said and laughed. “It’s for hydration purposes.”
Carlson said his crew at Lower Chester likes to drink during flooding and afterwards.“That’s the only way to make it fun and stay warm,” he said.