© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The players’ reactions from the first four NHL games at Mullett Arena sounded like testimonials for the work of the league’s and venue’s ice crews.
Winnipeg Jets center Pierre-Luc Dubois told ESPN’s Leah Hextall that Mullett Arena’s ice just might be the best in the NHL, and teammate Cole Perfetti said “the ice was great; it was unbelievable.”
Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk loved all the elements of the playing surface. New York Rangers forwards Alexis Lafrenière and Ryan Reaves (now with the Wild) echoed those sentiments, with Reaves calling the playing surface “unreal.”
When the Coyotes practiced there for the first time on Oct. 27, forward Christian Fischer raved about the speed of the ice and the boards. Then he went out and scored the first NHL goal in Mullett Arena history.
With so many NHLers lauding ASU’s ice, we asked a simple question: Why is it so good?
“It’s really hard and fast and it just doesn’t get soft late in the period,” said ASU forward and Coyotes prospect Josh Doan, noting that the ice is far better than Gila River Arena’s ice ever was. “It doesn’t break off and get chunky. It’s pretty clean for the whole period and then you just reset.”
NHL senior director of facility operations Mike Craig explained why. “All of our NHL ice surfaces are up to very high standards and very high quality, but here in particular, I think that there’s maybe a kind of a combination of things working in its favor,” Craig said. “First of all, a lot of credit goes to the crew that is there. They have a lot of previous NHL experience so they’re very familiar with all of our standard operating procedures and best practices.
“But then it’s a matter of all the mechanical systems, refrigeration equipment, HVAC equipment and conditions that are there. Everything there is really able to maintain all our parameters as far as the arena environment, ice conditions and temperatures.”
Peter Luukko, the facilities co-chair for OVG Group (the arena’s manager), said the size and layout of Mullett help create an optimal ice surface.
“The arena only seats 5,000 so you’ve got 5,000 warm bodies and not 18,000,” Luukko said. “The other thing that really helps is that the entry to the arena is below the concourse level. What this does is when we open the doors, that outside temperature does not blow directly into the bowl, which is a big factor in maintaining the environment. The arena has double doors from the outside, too, and that really, really helps us maintain the cool temperature in the facility.”
Before the ice floor was laid, the league made sure that the piping was spaced three inches apart instead of 3½ inches, as is the case with some facilities around the world. Three inches is the current NHL standard, but some of the older rinks may not have that standard in place. Tighter piping creates a more uniform ice surface and helps to better maintain the optimal temperature.
Some analysts have wondered if the simple newness of the facility contributes to the ice quality, but Craig and Luukko said that is not a factor.
“There isn’t a new technology at play here or something we’re putting in the water,” Luukko said. “We just have all the right factors and tools to optimize the conditions and it’s a great benefit to the university.”
Aside from the ice, multiple players have noted how true the glass, boards and the kick strip or kick plate (that yellow strip at the bottom of the boards) are at Mullett.
“If you rim a puck around, it’s not going to hit anything or get snagged and kick out or slow down,” Fischer said. “It comes around fast.”
“That’s one of the things that is on our facility operations checklist; ensuring that there’s no issues at any of the gates and that everything lines up perfectly,” Craig added. “We obviously want to ensure that those kinds of things don’t impact the play of the game.”
Craig works with a facilities staff of four to maintain all 32 of the NHL’s venues. “We monitor conditions for every game,” said Craig, who attended the Sun Devils’ home opener and the first couple of Coyotes games at Mullett Arena. “There are game reports that are filed for every single game so we review those daily and then we keep in contact with all of our venues throughout the year and we try to conduct facility site visits at least once or twice a year in each venue.
“Whenever you have a chance to make a first impression in a new arena, you really want to make sure everything is dialed in for them. There’s been compliments all the way through with that facility in Arizona so it’s definitely nice to hear some positivity.”