Difficulty making ice at Sullivan Arena could disrupt the start of the hockey season for the Alaska Aces and UAA, the building's two cornerstone tenants, unless ongoing repairs solve the problem soon.
A corroded steel pipe in the ice-making system beneath the arena floor was discovered earlier this month and ground water that entered the pipe compromised the ability to make ice over the entire rink, said Joe Wooden, regional general manager for SMG, which operates the building for the city.
Wooden said the water is being flushed and filtered from the pipe in a process that started earlier this week and will continue through the weekend. Workers will then attempt to make ice beginning Monday, he said.
"We believe there's a good chance we'll have the lion's share of the moisture out,'' Wooden said. "We're feeling cautiously optimistic.''
Wooden said a previous effort to make ice was successful on about 75-80 percent of the Olympic-sized rink, which is 200 feet long and 100 feet wide.
Ridding the pipe of water will eventually succeed, Wooden said. The concern is whether it can be accomplished quickly enough to start the hockey season as scheduled.
The first hockey games scheduled at Sullivan this fall are the Aces' "Paint the Rink Pink'' exhibition games Oct. 8-9 against the Las Vegas Wranglers. Those annual ECHL preseason games benefit the local fight against breast cancer and give fans their first look at the club.
Aces managing member Terry Parks, who said he has been in frequent contact with Wooden and has also visited the arena to talk with contractors, said he is optimistic repairs will work.
"I guess we wait and see on Monday,'' Parks said. "After that, if we need to, we'll have to decide what to do.''
UAA is scheduled to play its first games at Sullivan on Oct. 14-15 in its season-opening Kendall Hockey Classic.
Seawolves athletic director Steve Cobb said he has also been in daily contact with Wooden and believes SMG is on the right track.
Still, Cobb said, UAA will make upgrades to its relatively small rink at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex -- adding a press box, capabilities for a television broadcast and video replay, among other improvements -- in case repairs at Sullivan do not immediately work.
"This is obviously a warning flag -- this (ice-making capability) can go out during the season -- so I have to have an option,'' Cobb said.
Cobb said the rink at the Wells Fargo would seat just 750, including standing-room-only. Sullivan Arena seats more than 6,000 fans for hockey. Last season, the Aces averaged 4,450 fans per regular-season home game and UAA averaged 3,093 per home game.
No other rink in Anchorage can seat as many as 1,000 for hockey.
The problems at Sullivan don't hamper either the Aces or UAA in training. The Aces conduct most of their training-camp practices at Ben Boeke Arena, adjacent to Sullivan, and the Seawolves practice on their campus rink.
Sullivan, which opened in 1983, also is the site of concerts and trade shows, but the Aces and Seawolves remain its most frequent tenants. The Aces play a minimum of two exhibition games and 36 regular-season games at Sullivan every season. UAA usually plays a minimum of 17 home games at Sullivan.
If repairs at Sullivan don't solve the problem and allow ice to be made, the Aces and UAA would have to play elsewhere, and that could have a ripple effect with rink availability. For instance, if the Aces had to play an exhibition game at Boeke, that would likely displace a youth team that has ice reserved there.
SMG's Wooden said the corroded pipe was discovered Sept. 12. The city's contractor welded a patch on the damaged area, Wooden said, and the system withstood a pressure test. As regular preparations for ice-making began several days later, water was discovered in the pipe, and workers have since been clearing and flushing the pipe, he said.
"We've made a lot of headway,'' Wooden said.
Cobb said the ice-making problem at the rink is complicated. He just hopes repairs solve the problem quickly and don't throw a kink in the start of the season.
"I guess I don't care how rough the seas are, I just want the boat brought into the dock,'' Cobb said. "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I know it's a cliche, but it's where we are.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.