Tampa Bay has been on fire this season, getting to 50 wins as fast as any team in NHL history and clinching a playoff spot on March 9. So it's likely the Lightning will keep playing into June -- when the average high outside Amalie Arena is 90 degrees. "People don't realize how hard it is to maintain good ice here," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos says. Zamboni driver Alison Murdock, part of the 15-person Lightning Ice Crew, reveals the secrets to keeping the sheets (and other surfaces) clean.
Stay on thin (but not too thin) ice
Murdock uses the Zamboni to "cut" the ice, shaving it down to NHL specifications: about 1¼ inches thick. "The surface temperature must be between 20 and 24 degrees," she says, noting that glycol (antifreeze) lines under the ice, the arena's air-cooling system and large HVAC dehumidifiers keep things from getting too dank. "Our biggest issue is that when the doors open and there's a rush of people, the humidity really goes up. But the building is meant to handle it."
The Ice Crew uses reverse-osmosis purified water to make and maintain the ice. "People ask if there's something in the water that makes it more slick. No, there isn't," says Murdock, adding that they use the Zamboni slush to plug any divots and then blast it with a fire extinguishers to solidify it during games.
Do the dirty work
In addition to 41 regular-season Lightning games, the arena also hosts dozens of concerts. Music fans probably don't realize there's ice under the black fiberglass matting they're standing on. "It gets nasty. Beer seeps through and gets all over the ice," says Murdock, who is one of the first crew members to treat the post-concert ice, arriving at the arena around 7 the morning after an event. She Zambonis the muck off and uses a giant bug-spray can filled with water to spot-clean stains. The crew also hand-cleans every sheet of glass, scouring off scuff marks (and stains from nacho-covered hands). Murdock is so dedicated to aesthetics, she cleans the wheels of the shovel cans used on the ice, lest they leave grease streaks.
Murdock, 26, still gets nervous when she pilots a Zamboni around the rink in front of 20,000 fans. "You sit back here, and you have all of that in front of you," she says, pointing to the vehicle's elongated anterior. "You can't see well. You just have to have a feel for it."
Don't stay in your lane
Murdock was recruited to the Ice Crew out of a Lightning fantasy camp. "I've played hockey since I was 4," she says. "Got into it early on. But I had no idea I wanted to do this."
According to the NHL, she's the only woman to drive a Zamboni regularly. "A family was touring the arena and said, 'We thought Zamboni drivers are all 60- or 70-year-old men,'" she says. "I was like, 'They mostly are.'"