For many years, building manager Al Sobotka and his staff at the Joe Louis Arena produced what was regarded as one of the highest-quality ice surfaces in the NHL.
But the Red Wings are in Little Caesars Arena now, and Sobotka will face new challenges.
The Pistons will be playing on many nights the Red Wings aren’t in action. And when those teams aren’t using the arena, there will be concerts, ice shows, college basketball games and other hockey events in the arena.
Is Sobotka worried the ice won’t be as good as it was at Joe Louis Arena?
“Honestly, I expect it to be better,” Sobotka said.
There’s one major reason for Sobotka’s optimism: The ability to keep out humidity.
“It goes back to the way the new arena was designed, and built, the way it’s underground — we’re seeing the effects already,” Sobotka said.
Sobotka explained that at The Joe, countless times during the week — multiple times per day, really — the doors in the end zone would need to be rolled up to let trucks in dropping off beverages, office equipment, etc.
“You guys saw it all the time,” Sobotka said. “All that humidity, (warm) weather would come into the arena.”
That isn’t going to be an issue at Little Caesars Arena.
And if the humidity does get too high, a control system that works similar to a dehumidifier should keep the conditions and temperature ideal for good ice.
“It’s just totally different,” Sobotka said. “This is top of the line. I’m hopeful this will make it better than ever.”
Through several exhibition games and practices, the Red Wings are optimistic the Little Caesars Arena ice will compare favorably to The Joe’s.
Six Kid Rock concerts kept the Red Wings out of the main arena initially. But the Wings have been skating regularly since, and conditions have improved.
“It was a concern early, but Al Sobotka has done a great job,” said coach Jeff Blashill, noting the surfaces at both the practice and main rinks have improved markedly over the last week.
“Way better than it was earlier (since the Red Wings returned from training camp). He’s made some adjustments. He’s one of the best in the business, and he’s put us in position to have good ice.”
Players have noticed a significant improvement as the weather has turned cooler and the ice simply has gotten more use.
“It’s like everything, it takes a little bit of time to get well,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
Little Caesars Arena will become one of 12 arenas around the league that also is home to an NBA team. (Staples Center in Los Angeles actually has two NBA teams and the NHL’s Kings.)
The constant rotation of events at these building, many believe, is the reason choppy ice is becoming more prevalent.
Bad ice is a factor because it neutralizes the speed and skill of the NHL’s stars and can cause injuries.
Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the ice situation last season during the All-Star break, acknowledging the issue needs to be monitored.
“We want to make sure ice conditions are good for a competitive game, and most importantly we want to make sure they’re safe for the players,” Bettman said.