Turf starts transforming to ice as NHL prepares Investors Group Field for Heritage Classic

The National Hockey League has taken over Investors Group Field.

NHL mobile ice plant parks outside of Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium on Tuesday

Crews at Investors Group Field start to stage and cover the turf in preparation for the 2016 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic game between the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 23, 2016. (Brett Purdy)

The National Hockey League officially took over Investors Group Field today.

A 53-foot mobile refrigeration unit arrived at the stadium to start the work of turning turf to ice. Crews began by placing turf protectors over the field, which will be transformed into an NHL hockey rink for the Heritage Classic.

Turf starts transforming to ice for Heritage Classic

6 years ago
Duration 0:56
Crews at Investors Group Field start to stage and cover the turf in preparation for the 2016 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic game.

The Winnipeg Jets host the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, Oct. 23. In total, about 150 people will work on making the ice, from NHL staff, to support crews to local labour.

They have until Oct. 21 to be ready for the first set of skaters.

Mike Craig, the senior manager of facility operations for the NHL, said the weather and schedule are looking good to start and they expect the ice to be in good condition for the fourth Heritage Classic game.

"We're putting on an NHL game and we have our expectations, with our crew are to make sure it's NHL-calibre ready," said Craig.
Mike Craig, senior manager of facility operations for the NHL speaks to media at Investors Group Field on Tuesday about turning the football stadium into an outdoor hockey facility. (CBC)

After the heavy duty turf protection called armor deck is on the field, it's followed by ice pans which circulate the refrigerant to control the temperature of the ice.

Craig said it will take the next few days to finish staging the field and crews should be spraying water and making ice by the evening of Oct. 14. Craig was part of the crew that worked at the inaugural Heritage Classic in Edmonton in 2003 and he said since that game they have learned how to handle making an NHL rink outside.

"Whether it's doing a game in California or snow or rain, or all the different elements we can see. We've kind of learned how to deal with those over the last bunch of years," said Craig.

Outdoor rinks go high tech

The setup for the NHL's first outdoor game in Winnipeg is obviously more than just a hose and a some makeshift boards in a backyard.

The NHL now owns two of these mobile refrigeration units which Craig estimates cost $800,000 to $900,000. He said the trucks can produce as much refrigeration as many of the buildings in the NHL. 
53-foot, mobile refrigeration unit, parked outside Investors Group Field. (CBC)

Once the ice is made, 4,300 gallons of glycol will circulate underneath it to control the temperature.

There are eight sensors embedded in the ice which transmit real time temperatures so crews can control the temperature of the surface of the ice, which is where Craig said temperature matters the most. Crews will monitor temperature readings every few minutes.

After the final whistle ends the Heritage Classic, crews will begin dismantling the pop-up rink by chipping away and hauling out chunks of ice.

Craig said it will take three days to clear out of the stadium and turn the keys back over to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They play their next home game on Saturday Oct. 29.