You wouldn't think rain would be a factor at an indoor sporting event, but it is at the Stanley Cup finals.
Atmospheric moisture is the enemy of indoor ice, which is why Dan Craig, the NHL's facilities operations manager, keeps an eye on the Tampa Bay area forecast every waking hour.
However, the NHL's ice guru doesn't anticipate weather being a factor in ice conditions, even if it changes.
"People think it's hot here now because we're in Florida and we're heading toward June," Craig said, "But really, it's no different than what conditions are here in October and November.
"The crew here is used to that and we've been working with them for three, four years now. So when it comes to dealing with the conditions it's more a matter of tweaking the system than having to make major changes."
Tampa isn't the southernmost point on the NHL map -- that honor belongs to the Florida Panthers, who played host to the Cup finals in 1996. The St. Pete Times Forum, which opened in October 1996, is also more sophisticated than, say, the old Reunion Arena in Dallas, where weather outside and an extremely low roof combined to create a much more formidable challenge during the 1999 finals.
Yet even with improved mechanics, Craig isn't taking any chances. He's brought in three dehumidification/air conditioning units (almost 300 tons of equipment) to supplement the Forum's system. The supplemental units are used mostly to keep the air inside drier then the air outside, which helps the ice stay hard and fast.
For two teams that reached the Stanley Cup finals because of their skating ability, a fast track is crucial.
Rain rapidly -- and drastically -- alters the balance between the inside and outside air and, in turn, affects ice conditions. He said the crews know how to deal with the change, but only if they have enough warning, which is why he wakes up to the Weather Channel and stays in regular contact with the U.S. Weather Service throughout each day.
The arena's ice crews also employ a variety of in-game tricks. Because a change in ice conditions usually causes the puck to bounce and makes it difficult to control, pucks are stored at the same temperature as the ice surface and they're switched out of the game often. Water temperature in the Zambonis is also controlled so it better adheres to the ice during resurfacing. Because snow buildup softens the ice below it, the ice crew shovels along the boards and around the nets during time outs and stoppages in play. Because those are few and far between during overtime, a new rule calls for the game to be stopped at the 10-minute mark for an ice cleaning.
"Over the years the equipment, the crews and the plans have all come together in a way that allows us to be consistent," Craig said. "Consistency is the goal."
No hard feelings
Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier and winger Martin St. Louis were asked what they expect it will be like playing in a hockey hotbed like Calgary after playing in Montreal, where they swept the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Both agreed they'll be excited, but before finishing his answer St. Louis headed the next question off at the pass.
"I know people are making a big deal because I played in Calgary and this and that. I am treating this series the same way it would be regardless of if it's Calgary or if it would be San Jose or whatnot. Obviously it gives you guys something to write about, but I don't really pay attention to that," St. Louis said. "[The Flames are] a good team and I am happy for some of the players that are still there when I was there. They are good guys, but before everybody asks me, there's no hard feelings. I am not mad. I don't feel I have to put it in their face. The people that were there when I was there are gone, so it is totally new people there.
"But it's exciting to play in a Canadian city. That's the most excited I was in the playoffs. Playing in Montreal just to experience the whole -- this is a religion up there and to be in the playoffs up there was great. I feel the same way going to Calgary."
The Flames let the diminutive sniper to walk away via free agency in the summer of 2000. He soon was signed by former Lightning GM Rick Dudley. Because of St. Louis' rise among the scoring ranks the last two seasons, the retrospective analysis is that St. Louis wasn't given ample opportunity in Calgary.
Notable & Quotable
Pleased to meet you
"Likewise, I am sure."
-- Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter responding to the first half of a question which began "The Calgary Flames are very unknown, obviously, in these parts, in the Tampa Bay area ..."
Anything Jarome can do ...
"The focus of our team starts with him. What you see on the ice is great, but Jarome does everything he's asked. So you feel you have to be able to do everything asked of you, because that's the way your best player plays and who are you not to be able to do the same thing. The amazing thing about Jarome, though, is the player you see on the ice, the way he handles himself, that doesn't even come close to comparing to the way he is as a person. He really does want the best of you. He gives that as a player, so you want to give your best as a player, but also because he's such a good person."
-- Flames winger Chris Simon on captain Jarome Iginla's influence
A long strange trip
"They say when you hoist the Cup your whole childhood passes before your eyes. That's because it's been something most of us have done since we were kids. We imagine we're playing for the Cup, and then when you win it you hoist it over your head. The memories of something you've been doing in your imagination since you were maybe 4 years old just come flooding back.
"It's just something you imagine doing your whole life."
-- Lightning forward Tim Taylor, who won the Cup in 1997 with the Detroit Red Wings
"I think it's worked out well for both of us. You guys wouldn't be asking me about this unless I had been traded to the East, but it's not like we'll be going head to head. He seems to have found a spot for himself there and my coming here has certainly worked out well. I guess if two guys who were traded for each other both end up in the Stanley Cup finals, that can't be a bad thing. "
-- Lightning winger Cory Stillman on facing Flames center Craig Conroy, who was traded to Calgary from the Blues in exchange for Stillman at the 2001 trade deadline. Stillman was acquired by the Lightning last June 21
Assisted by McLennan
"Our focus from day one was to do whatever was necessary to make the playoffs, but I guess the thing that turned it around for us was the trade for Miikka Kiprusoff.
"Before that, I think we relied too much on Jarome Iginla and [goalie] Roman Turek to be the difference makers. And after Roman got hurt, and Miikka got hurt, and then [goalie] Jamie McLennan was playing and he was playing hurt, we knew we had to do more to control our own fate.
"Jamie was a big part of that. He was playing with a cracked sternum and every time the puck hit him in the chest we could here him try to stifle the pain. A guy does something like that, it makes you try even harder."
-- Flames defenseman Rhett Warrener on the turning point in the season
Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. ESPN.com NHL editor Sherry Skalko contributed to this report.
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