When it comes to maintaining ice in the Sun Belt cities, it's not
the heat that's the problem, it's the humidity. Tim
Friedenberger, the director of facility operations at the St.
Pete Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, wages a daily
battle to make his building the only arid spot on Florida's
sultry Gulf Coast. Moist air--the humidity in the region often
reaches 100%--doesn't cool easily and overwhelms air-conditioning
and ice-refrigeration systems. When the air does chill, the water
vapor condenses and covers the ice with a layer of frost. The
resulting soft surface makes crisp passing and smooth skating
To combat the humidity, Friedenberger and his staff pressurize
the Forum in an attempt to keep the outside air where it needs to
stay--outside. "We create a bubble effect," he says of the
process whereby the air pressure inside the arena is increased.
"When somebody opens a door, we want air to rush out so the moist
air can't get in."
During home stands, four seven-foot-high dehumidifiers run
constantly in the Forum. When the building is sealed, those units
are enough to hold humidity levels below the league-suggested
maximum of 40%, but Friedenberger's tricks are no match for the
steamy air that comes in whenever fans file through open doors.
"The optimal thing would be to lock the building down," says
Florida Panthers ice technician Steve Huddleston, who has similar
problems and uses the same tricks at the Office Depot Center in
Sunrise, Fla. "But fans have to get in."
Friedenberger's system doesn't always succeed, but according to
recent NHL ratings (opposite), the Forum ice, once one of the
league's worst, has improved dramatically. "There's a [friendly]
competition to see who can make the best sheet in the league,"
says Friedenberger. "Places like this have it tougher than
February 23, 2004