With the millions of dollars invested in the players skating around the National Hockey League, you'd think they would enjoy a world-class ice surface to play on, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Thanks to the Capitals, I got a chance to test drive an ice surface that some of the league's top players patrol, and one that one of the league's speediest teams calls its home.
The surface at Verizon Center has been a very sore subject locally, with several players complaining about its poor quality and inferring the potential for injuries as a result. Capitals captain Chris Clark -- who has been plagued with injuries the past few seasons -- suggested to the press in December that it was the "worst in the league" and then reiterated that point just two weeks ago. Flyers captain Daniel Briere tipped his hat to the Verizon Center's ice, because he felt the poor quality slowed down the speedy Caps enough to help them outlast them in a seven-game playoff series last spring.
Well, after taking a spin on its surface following a jam-packed weekend at Verizon Center, they're absolutely right.
With a pair of Capitals afternoon games over the weekend sandwiched around a Wizards game Saturday night and a relatively warm February day in the nation's capital, the ice was hardly in great shape following Washington's 7-4 win over Ottawa, as it quickly got chewed up with a lot of deep ruts.
There were ample shavings of ice on the surface, which quickly deteriorated with skaters going around much faster than, say, the Capitals' suburban practice facility, which holds up much better under the wear and tear. And, after just a half-hour of skating, it became much tougher to make out the advertising logos in the ice due to all the ruts and snow on the surface.
One skater, who plays hockey in a local league, was shocked at how bad the ice was for players who get paid millions compared to the surface of the suburban rink he pays $420 a season to play on.
And this is with casual skaters, not NHL players who sharpen their skates religiously to razor-sharp edges and need every inch to stop and turn on a dime.
The Caps have been trying hard to fix the problem, and it's certainly not intentional, as Washington's team is built on speed, meaning it would be a even more of an advantage for a team already strong on home ice to have a faster surface to play on to generate speed and deliver crisp passes.
But that's part of the tough job in keeping ice with a multi-use facility, as the constant covering and uncovering of the ice doesn't help the surface. With a subway station underneath the surface, the heat rising from below also undermines the rink -- similar to why Madison Square Garden's ice has been compared unfavorably to slush due to the heat coming from underneath the floor. Verizon Center is also one of the few venues in North America in which an NHL team shares a building with both an NBA and full-time NCAA hoops schedule, adding to the pressure on the surface and need to keep it covered.
Not surprisingly, the best NHL ice is considered to be north of the border, particularly a venue like Edmonton, where the ice is allowed to stand uncovered most of the time and the workers usually just throw the doors open to keep the ice cooled during non-event days. But, with the advent of buildings that need to put padding for basketball courts, concerts and other events, it really makes for a tough surface for players to skate on. And it's impractical to think that NHL teams should move to its own buildings to keep pristine surfaces, since that's not realistic or feasible.
So, when watching a game at home, remember that, unlike some of the pristine conditions that their counterparts in baseball, golf or even NASCAR play on, just because you're some of the best talent in the world in your sport doesn't mean you're skating on the best ice available.