New ice on DECC

The new $800,000 ice-making plant at the DECC gets its first real test today when the Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team has practice at 12:30 p.m., followed by the women's team at 3:15 p.m.

The new $800,000 ice-making plant at the DECC gets its first real test today when the Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team has practice at 12:30 p.m., followed by the women's team at 3:15 p.m.

But the rink-cooling system already is receiving good reviews from DECC employees since it began percolating Sunday night following the Three Days Grace concert. Layers of water have been laid down 24 hours a day since and the ice will debut with four games in three days this weekend.

"This is an old, tired building that didn't have a state-of-the-art ice plant, but we got 15, maybe 20 years more out of the original system than we should have,'' said Walt Bruley, the DECC's ice maintenance supervisor, who has worked in the building since 1973. "I don't know if teams will be able to tell a difference in our ice because we've usually gotten pretty high grades from the [Western Collegiate Hockey Association]. But what we have now is the security that the system won't fail. We'll have more control over the system.''

The DECC was built in 1966 and the original refrigeration system had been corroding in recent years as calcium chloride leaks ate away at the stainless steel piping from the outside. Some of the pipes needed to be capped off, which limited the system, and DECC officials wondered last season if the ice-making plant would make it through the year.

The DECC ice, often regarded as softer than many rinks, also had some ice chunks come loose at various times during the2006-07 season, delaying games.


"We didn't want to keep patching and cobbling this system together, because that was going to lead to a catastrophe,'' said Jeff Stark, the DECC technical manager and building services manager.

The previous system was dismantled starting June 18 as a company from Clearbrook, Minn., broke the DECC floor into 500 blocks of concrete of 2,200 pounds each and then poured new concrete that was transported on a conveyor from next door at Pioneer Hall.

Commercial Refrigeration Systems of Virginia, which has put in approximately 125 hockey ice-making plants, installed more than 11 miles of steel pipe. Salt water from 6,000 wells below the DECC flows through the system. The water is kept at 12 degrees, while the ice surface is at 20 degrees, said Bruley.

"This system allows us to make ice faster and cheaper,'' said DECC operations director Bob Hom, who said the new plant is to have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years.

Fewer concerns about the ice quality is what most pleases UMD men's coach Scott Sandelin.

The Bulldogs open the season at home this weekend in the inaugural Superior Cup -- facing Lake Superior State on Friday and Northern Michigan on Saturday. The UMD women open the home season on Saturday and Sunday afternoons against Bemidji State.

A quick start

October could be a critical month for the UMD men's team, said Sandelin. The Bulldogs have four of six games at home during the month before going on the road for eight of 10 games.


UMD was 6-2-1 at the DECC the second half of 2006-07.

"Every team wants to get off to a good start, but with the schedule we have, the first four games in particular are very important,'' said Sandelin, whose team opens the WCHA season against St. Cloud State on Oct. 19-20 at the DECC. "If you start with a few wins, you can gain some confidence and some points in the league.

The opening weekend has UMD facing teams from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Lake Superior State (21-19-3 last season) is picked seventh among 12 teams in the CCHA coaches' poll, while Northern Michigan (15-24-2) is picked eighth.

UMD swept Northern Michigan in home-and-home games last season. The Bulldogs haven't faced Lake Superior State since losing 4-3 in an NCAA Division I West Regional game on March 27, 1993.

* UMD senior winger Mike Curry will sit out this weekend's games because of a violation of team rules last spring, said Sandelin.

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