Anchorage — The start of the hockey season for the Alaska Aces and UAA should proceed as scheduled after a rink remedy resolved problems making ice at Sullivan Arena.
Workers began making ice Friday afternoon, once the temperature on the concrete slab on which ice is made was reduced to 20 degrees. The breakthrough came three weeks after corroded piping beneath the arena floor allowed ground water to leak into the system and compromised the ability to make ice. That crisis necessitated a series of repairs as the season openers approached for the professional Aces and the college Seawolves.
The Aces will play the first games of their season in Sullivan on Monday and Tuesday nights, when they entertain the Las Vegas Wranglers in a pair of ECHL exhibition games. The games are the centerpiece of the Aces annual "Paint the Rink Pink'' promotion, which benefits a pair of non-profits that champion the fight against breast cancer.
"We're planning on playing hockey there Monday,'' said Aces managing member Terry Parks. "Once the floor temperature started dropping, I figured we were OK.''
UAA opens at Sullivan on Oct. 12-13, when it plays host to the Kendall Hockey Classic, its annual four-team tournament.
"We all breathed a sigh of relief,'' said UAA athletic director Steve Cobb.
Joe Wooden, regional general manager for SMG, which operates Sullivan, said indications are the repairs worked well.
"We're fine,'' he said. "All the equipment readings and benchmarks are exactly where we want them to be. We're going to be playing hockey here Monday and Tuesday, and have the Kendall Hockey Classic next week.
"All indications are good, unless we have a leak, but we don't expect that. We're rock'n and roll'n.''
Both the Aces and UAA made contingency plans in case repairs at Sullivan did not fix the problem.
The Aces would have played their exhibitions at adjacent Ben Boeke Arena. That furnished them an alternative venue, and myriad problems -- Boeke seats fewer than 1,000 compared to Sullivan's 6,000-plus and revenue from the games would have been severely slashed.
UAA is going ahead with improvements to make its rink at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex compliant with NCAA guidelines. That will give UAA a fall-back venue if Sullivan suffers future problems, but Cobb said he was pleased to hear the repairs at Sullivan worked, because playing at the small on-campus rink would have diminished the Classic.
"It would not have been as good an experience for our players or our fans,'' Cobb said. "We're pretty excited today. We're happy for everyone.
Last week when the problems at Sullivan were initially reported and the complex engineering of making ice was detailed, Cobb said, "I guess I don't care how rough the seas are, I just want the boat brought into the dock.''
Friday, Wooden laughed as he voiced his rejoinder: "Call Steve Cobb and tell him there's a big old ship docked at Sullivan.''
The Aces and UAA are the most frequent tenants in Sullivan Arena, which is owned by the city and also is used for concerts and trade shows. The ice-making repairs at Sullivan, which opened in 1983, forced the cancellation of the Make It Alaskan Festival last weekend. The festival has been rescheduled for Nov. 2-4, when the Aces have road games scheduled and the Seawolves are idle.
Nearly every winter weekend, either the Aces or Seawolves play at Sullivan. The Aces play a minimum of 36 games a season on the Olympic-sized ice and UAA generally plays 17 home matches and holds the Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournament there.
Both hockey clubs were fortunate the ice-making problems did not happen in mid-season, when there is not a window of three weeks-plus to make repairs.
"If there's anything good that's come out of this, it's I'm glad it happened when it did because it's kind of, 'What if this happened in December?' '' Wooden said. "We'd lose three weeks of hockey, and that's a catastrophe.''
Even as ice-making proceeded Friday, Wooden cautioned that Sullivan is an old building with old infrastructure.
"Replacing the (pipe) lines is not the end-all, be-all for Sullivan Arena,'' he said. "Our compressors and pumps are still going to be 30 years old come February, and the floor is going to be 23 years old. Parts are hard to find. There's no junkyard for ice-rink parts.
"Today, though, everything has worked to a T.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.