The Iceman floodeth - Raymond Von Diebeisch is the man behind the pond

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
January 14th, 2010

The Western Regionals of the Canadian Pond Hockey Championships will return to Rossland next week for their second year. Originally scheduled for this weekend the unseasonable pineapple express that brought warm temperatures and rain to Rossland has forced the postponement of the event by a week.

Last year’s inaugural event proved to be a huge success with a full slate of teams coming from far and wide to compete in the unique open air hockey tournament. Each day of the event saw crowds often two or three rows deep surrounding two makeshift ponds on the Emcon lot and one in the arena parking lot. This exciting brand of hockey, with no goalies and short nets, proved to be a hit with spectators. In an offensive frenzy, the final men’s game actually set a new record for most goals score in Pond Hockey Championship history with a final score of 36-29 in favour of the champion Gilnockie Ruttin’ Bucks.

While many volunteers contributed to pulling off the event, one man in particular deserves much of the credit. If you’ve driven past the Emcon lots, you’ve likely seen him out there in the dark cold night with his fire hose, flooding the rinks. Well deserving of the nickname “Iceman”, Raymond Von Diebeisch is once again working with mother nature, using his three decades of ice making experience to provide the best man-made pond he can for the championships.

Catching up with Ray this week as the thermometer read 5 degrees and heavy rain threatened his work of art, he was just a little stressed about the weather.

You’ve seen the weather outside. Not exactly ice making weather. I’m pulling y hair out right now and wondering what I can about it; but there’s nothing I can do until the weather cools down.”

How did you get involved with the event?

John Reed got the whole event rolling. He approached the City last year. Management from the City asked me if I would be willing to help out because the City committed X dollars plus in-kind service to help the event. At that time I was still working for the City so I said sure I can help out. I worked in the Rossland arena for 31 years before retiring last year, so I have perhaps a bit more knowledge than just the average person on how to make ice.

So just how do you create the perfect outdoor arena?

The ideal situation would be to have a very flat and level surface that is not to porous like a dense sand surface, then get the frost into the ground and keep the snow off of it so the frost can penetrate into it. From there ideally you have persistent cold weather and start flooding small amounts at a time. People think you just pour water on it and all is well but it doesn’t work that way. When you make ice in an arena, it freezes from the bottom up because you’re cooling the floor beneath. In the outside it’s the opposite, it freezes from the top down when the cool air is. What you want is very thin layer upon layer and keep going. That way you build really strong ice that bonds each layer together and doesn’t get too chippy.

Our situation for this event is that the City made the Emcon lot available to us for the pond, but it is not level–which is a big problem. There is a 2.5 foot discrepancy from one end to the other. It’s basically just an abandoned lot of weeds, broken pavement and rocks, which is not an ideal surface. Last year, because it snowed so heavily, we tried to put a layer of ice on the snow surface. We compacted the snow, tried to level it out and tried to build a skin on top of the snow and then keep building from there. It turned into a disaster because it got warm. The snow below was collapsing and the water from above penetrated into the snow, creating hollow and void sections. This year we said let’s get started earlier, keep the snow off it and get a good hard surface to start on. We then thought we’d build up enough ice to level the whole surface. That was very difficult to do with the large elevation discrepancy.

What happens when you pour water of course on a not level surface: it migrates from high to low. In doing so, it doesn’t freeze evenly. It freezes in a tiered system, like little miniature waterfalls. Once that gets started it’s very difficult to stop that and get it level again. If you have too cold temperatures your hose freezes up and if it’s too warm the ice doesn’t form properly and stays soft.

How did you overcome the problems of an un-level lot this year?

Basically, we started by building up the low spots. What we have out there right now and hopefully will still have for the weekend is places where there is 14 to 16 inches of ice and others with only an inch and a half of ice on the high spots. It’s still not entirely level, but it’s not nearly as extreme as it was.

The ice should be much better than last year as long as we get some cold weather. It looks like we have one more day of this warm weather and then should cool off again, but who knows exactly.

Just how much time have you put into the project?

The amount of time flooding it, and this is just the flooding portion has probably been in excess of 32 hours just putting water on. You can’t do large volumes at once but instead need layer after layer of very thin ice to make it hard.

I’m retired now so I’m working part volunteer, part compensated for the hours.

What’s your motivation to put in all the time on it?

I guess it’s local pride in the community. I volunteer at a couple of other events. Mostly, I just want to see it go. Last year it was a totally fun event. The people that came out had a wonderful time. I thought by having some better ice this year with what we learned last year we could make the event even that much better. It’s nice to see people happy with the event and have them going away saying, ‘oh yeah, let’s do this again next year!’

I moved to Rossland in 1972 because of the skiing and basically have never left. It’s the best place in the world to live as far as I’m concerned and to raise children. I love living here. Rossland is my home and I want to do what I can to keep it a great place to live.

Will you give it another go again next year?

Yes, I think so. Each year I hope to get the ice a little better. Even though I might think I know everything about ice making, there is always new things to learn when you are working outdoors with Mother Nature.

It sounds to me like you really deserve the nickname Iceman? Has it caught on yet?

I’ve been the iceman now for a while. I took over from a fellow who worked in the arena prior to me. Desi Monahan. He will always be the true iceman, so I guess you can call me Iceman Junior.


For more information on the Canadian Pond Hockey Championships go to http://www.canadapondhockey.ca/

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