The Wisconsin hockey team was swept over the weekend by Colorado College, but there were some interesting story lines behind the scenes that were noteworthy.
One of the things that has fans riled up on Twitter and message boards was head coach Mike Eaves' comments after Friday night's game about the ice size at the Kohl Center in relation to the practice rink at the adjoining LaBahn Arena.
Eaves talked about how much wider the Kohl Center ice is compared to LaBahn, and many were put off with what initially came across as a lame excuse for Wisconsin's result on Friday night.
If you're not familiar, the Kohl Center ice surface is 200 feet (length) by 97 feet (width). The new LaBahn facility is 200 by 90.
According to Eaves, the Badgers hadn't practiced on the Kohl Center ice since early October, and he felt that played a factor in his team's play this weekend.
"We haven't skated on this sheet of ice in forever -- beginning of October -- and it looked like it at times. It's (seven) feet wider, but when you multiply that by 200 feet, that's a lot more square feet. We looked like at times we had bad gap, and it made things a little more difficult for me. It's not an excuse, it's a reason. We need to fix it and get going."
Later, when asked about the play of his defenseman, Eaves doubled back to the ice surface size again.
"A lot has to do with the opening comments about the gap, and getting used to the space and the speed," Eaves said. "I really think that not being on our sheet of ice for a long time...we had the guys up at 8 (a.m.) today just to get our goalies some shots, just to get them used to the different sight lines and angles. I think we'll be better [Saturday] just because we played tonight and we've seen it and felt it again."
As I wrote this morning, I don't think that Eaves' comments were an excuse as much as a public statement to the powers that be at Wisconsin. Originally, I thought that it was simply a plea for more practice time at the Kohl Center, and that certainly may be true.
However after I started thinking about it, I remembered an article that ran in the Wisconsin State Journal back when the University was in the planning stages of the LaBahn Arena. I was able to do some research Monday afternoon to find the article, and in my opinion, it starts to make a lot of sense now.
In the article written by the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot in January 2007, Eaves noted that he'd like the future practice facility ice surface to be 200 feet by 90 feet, and then would like to see the Kohl Center ice adjusted to match it.
"My hope is when they do that, that we can change the configuration of our Kohl Center (ice sheet) so that the practice sheet and the Kohl Center are the same," Eaves told the State Journal.
The article mentions that Eaves feels a 200x90 ice surface would eliminate the need for moving between rinks for practice. I suppose that somewhat contradicts his recent comments, but like I said I think Eaves comments were a public plea to the administration.
In the original article back in 2007, Eaves said he prefers the 200x90 ice surface because it gives guys a little bit more room to make plays.
"I just like the game better on a 90-foot-wide sheet because it's a little bit more entertaining," Eaves said, adding the 200x85 rinks in the NHL are "almost too tight."
"Five more feet gives you a little bit more space and time," he said.
In order to gauge if making the adjustments to the Kohl Center would be feasible, I called up ice arena expert Pat Newkirk, who is the assistant facility manager at Hobbs Ice Center in Eau Claire, Wis. Newkirk is also familiar with big time college hockey rinks, as he spent close to six seasons on the ice crew at Minnesota's Mariucci Arena.
Newkirk noted that the project of making the ice surface at the Kohl Center smaller is significantly more difficult than most would expect.
Cutting the width of the rink from 97 feet to 90 feet obviously cuts three-and-a-half feet off of each side of the rink. That creates a few issues, the first being that you're going to need to replace at minimum some of the dasher-boards.
There are a few ways to adjust the boards themselves. The first option would be to keep the current sides and end boards, but replace the corners. Cutting width significantly changes the angles of the corners, and you'd have no choice but to make adjustments there.
That said, Newkirk mentioned that if you're going to replace the corners, it's likely that they would end up replacing the entire board and glass system. At a facility like the Kohl Center, Newkirk estimated that cost to be in the $250,000 region.
However, there's much more that goes into it than simply putting in new boards. When the refrigeration system was put into the floor of the Kohl Center, it was built for a 97 foot wide surface. Bringing the boards in closer means that you must drill new holes for anchors on the boards, and that might not be feasible. Without looking at floor plans, we have no way of knowing if it's possible to drill into the current floor.
If it's not possible to bring in the anchors to reduce the width because the current setup doesn't allow for it, you could replace the floor. Doing so would significantly increase the cost of the renovation. Newkirk estimated a complete floor replacement to be in the neighborhood of $1 million.
Another issue if you don't replace the floor is that you now have 3 1/2 feet of refrigerated flooring exposed on each side of the rink. Being that the Kohl Center is a multipurpose facility, they have experience in covering the floor, but it's still something that will add to the cost of the project.
Additionally, you've got to figure out how you are going to configure the seats at the Kohl Center with the added space now on each side of the rink. The current seating bowl at the Kohl Center is set to comply with a width of 97 feet. Just another issue that the designers would have to consider if this project ever happened.
The longer I talked with Newkirk Monday night, the more and more it because clear that it's unlikely Wisconsin would go ahead with a renovation to shrink the width of the ice at the newly renamed Bob Johnson Rink. To do it right, Newkirk estimated it would cost the University upward of $2 million.
I understand times are tight and Wisconsin was forced to make certain concessions in building the LaBahn Arena with the money that they had available. That said, if they were going to redo the ice at the Kohl Center, they should have planned to do it at the same time that they did LaBahn.
While the idea behind the project is logical, I'm not sure the resources will be there in the near future to make it feasible.
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