I know I might be Johnny-come-lately on the topic of the ice conditions at the Verizon Center, but apparently the blogosphere is obsessed. On the heels of Tom Poti's comments, many area bloggers have made the condition of the ice at the phone booth their number one priority of griping (when your team is winning, I guess you pick on the little things).
Being a hockey player myself and playing on a plethora of ice surfaces I can tell you that it doesn't matter how good or bad the ice is, good players are still good players.
There are obviously factors involved to creating great ice and the effort of getting water to freeze at all is quite the challenge in the District of Columbia. A lot of people forget that we do live in a swamp where humidity and heat are enemies to solid forms of H2O. Not to mention a building that sees a lot of activity.
Normally, good ice for hockey is a very cold building and thinner ice. Ice that is thin and hard is perfect for speed, allowing less of the skate blade to sink in. The colder, the better because the ice is stronger, allowing a better cut for the skate blade and supporting the force needed to get up and go.
In contrast, good ice for figure skating is a warmer building and slightly thicker ice as the volume of the ice allows it to be softer and better for jumps and toe picks (enter Cutting Edge jokes here). Thicker ice is also slower.
It is a challenge to skate on poor ice. Anyone who has ever skated in a rink during a public skate knows if they catch a skate in a rut it is hard to get your skate out of it. There are basically three things you can do. 1) Ride the rut out, it eventually ends, 2) lift your foot and 3) build up your leg strength in order to skate through it. If you try to change course or if your body momentum is heading in a different direction, that is when bad things happen (i.e. groin pulls, ankle sprains, so on).
Bad ice can also create bouncing pucks as it is hard for a puck to stay flat with deep grooves and ruts. A bouncing puck always favors quicker hands. A coach told me once that the best way to play bouncing pucks is to play with bigger sticks and be a short stop. He didn't want us to actually get bigger sticks but to increase the surface area of your blade by chopping or waving your stick to stop the puck. Being a short stop simply means use your glove, arm, leg, skate, any part of your body to stop the puck, like a short stop in baseball.
Part of the problem for hockey players is they are not thinking about the ice surface. They are skating with their heads up, watching the play and reacting to the other skaters and the puck. It different than a public skate around the rink. Catching a skate in a rut when you are not expecting it can strain the muscles in your leg when you try to correct the course, especially if all you weight is on that leg (gearing up for a shot or making a turn).
Creating the ideal ice is a battle of the ambient conditions. Normally buildings like the Verizon Center are never great places to put a rink in the first place. Keeping the building's temperature is pretty hard to do with 18,000 people in it is a nightmare not to mention controlling the humidity levels. I have a hard enough problem keeping my apartment a comfortable atmosphere for my wife, I can't imagine what it is like for a building like the phone booth.
I am not here to make excuses for the condition of the ice. If we lived in a ice rink utopia, the ice would be fast and smooth, but we don't. The conditions are just going to get more complicated as we shed our winter coats for light jackets and take long walks on the national mall with out scarves. If the Capitals do make it deep in to the post season, the Verizon Center will get help from the league in order to make the ice a non factor in the playoffs.
I don't envy the job maintenance has to maintain the ice here in DC. It is hell somewhat frozen over.