Wednesday, May 30, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Monday night at T-Mobile Arena, long after the Golden Knights and Capitals players retired to their beds following their Stanley Cup Final game, George Salami and his team continued to work.
Salami’s title is technically director of conversion services, but he is better known as The Ice Man.
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final — a 6-4 win for the Golden Knights — ended just after 8 p.m., but Salami and his crew didn’t leave the building until 6 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“Rebuilding the ice is a lot of work,” he said. “You have to edge it, dry wash it, and then flood it to build it back up. We’re cutting a lot of ice during the game.”
The ice at T-Mobile Arena has been superb throughout the regular season and playoffs, but players said Monday night’s game fell short of the usually high standards.
“It’s been unbelievable all year, but it was a little bit sticky,” Golden Knights forward David Perron said. “It was a little bit different than usual, to be honest, but it’s nothing that you can really complain about. It’s the same for both teams.”
When the ice is slightly softer it can affect different aspects of the game, but particularly stick handling. The puck doesn’t slide as well, forcing players to use more force than usual as they skate up the ice.
“Handling the puck, if it’s a little sticky, is not always the easiest,” Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland said, “but that might be a positive thing to my game compared to other guys with skill.”
The temperature outside the arena at puck drop was 92 degrees — that figure dropped only three degrees by the time the game ended at 8:07 p.m.
Inside T-Mobile Arena was a cool 67 degrees, well within the NHL’s requirements. Salami said the ice was as pristine as it has been all year before the game.
“I’ve made ice in this town for a very long time,” said Salami, who has worked in Las Vegas since 1996. “Everything was on the mark.”
However, the reaction from the players after the game was different.
“As soon as we got on the ice for warmups, I felt like the puck wasn’t gliding as they do normally,” Perron said. “Maybe it had nothing to do with the ice. Sometimes they get new pucks for the Stanley Cup.”
Engelland noticed a slight change as well.
“It was soft,” he said. “It wasn’t the best, but it’s hot out and there were a lot of people in there, so I’m sure they’ll tweak some things here for the next game. Both teams are playing on it, so you have to adapt. The ice is different everywhere you go in the league.”
Salami offered a different reason for the soft ice.
“These guys are fighting for the Stanley Cup,” he said. “It’s the hardest trophy to win on the planet. They’re digging hard and the ice is made to give. It’s not concrete — it has to give to skate on it, and they dig hard. That’s the snow getting in the way (of the puck). Sometimes when you’re digging really hard, they gouge really hard.”
Stanley Cup Final games are notorious for bad ice. Whether it’s the fact that the arena doors are open more than usual the week prior in order to unload all of the extra stages and podiums that come with the championship series, or the players simply skating harder.
Overall, most players said that while the ice wasn’t as perfect as T-Mobile Arena usually keeps it, it was fine.
“I think you gotta keep it simple,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “It was fine. It was good to skate on. Obviously a couple bouncing pucks and stuff, making a lot of plays. On any given night in the NHL, with the ice, you never know what you're gonna get. It's the same ice for both teams, and you gotta just keep playing and work through it."
The temperatures are only going up in Las Vegas, and it’s expected to be 100 degrees for puck drop of Game 2 tonight. Salami says the arena has taken all precautions needed, keeping all doors and curtains closed to prevent even the slightest amount of heat from penetrating the building.
Expect the ice to be back to its usual pristine condition.
“We’ve been fortunate to have great ice all year even in this temperature, so there’s not much to complain about,” Perron said.