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Marine, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences

NHL Stadium Series Comes to Raleigh: So How Do You Build an Outdoor Hockey Rink?

Two weather experts discuss the science behind building an outdoor hockey rink at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Corey Davis and family members stand in front of the PNC Arena in their Carolina Hurricanes gear

Corey Davis ‘09 ‘14, an assistant state climatologist at the North Carolina State Climate Office, developed an interest in weather and hockey at an early age. He spent his childhood tracking tropical storms that hit North Carolina’s coastline and attending Carolina Hurricanes games at the Greensboro Coliseum, the team’s home during its first years in North Carolina. 

On Feb. 18, he’ll see his two passions come together at the National Hockey League (NHL) Stadium Series game at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium, where the Hurricanes will face off against the Washington Capitals in the home team’s first-ever outdoor game. Davis is just as excited about the science behind hosting an outdoor hockey game as he is for the game itself. 

“When it comes to setting up the outdoor ice rink, it’s not as straightforward as pouring water on the football field and waiting for it to freeze,” he said. “For one, it’s too warm for that right now. The NHL will also take precautions to protect the [grass] field underneath.”

‘A Major Undertaking’

The preparation for an NHL Stadium Series game begins almost two weeks before the event. Because football fields like the one at Carter-Finley have a slight crown to allow for drainage, the first step is to put down tarps and plywood to create a level surface.

Next, the NHL crew brings in refrigeration trucks that run a coolant underneath the rink to transfer heat away from the surface.

“It’s a major undertaking,” said Nate Johnson ‘00 ‘13, director of weather operations for NBCUniversal Local. “But they can maintain ice with air temperatures in the 70s because of how the coolant interacts and how that heat transfer takes place underneath the surface.” 

An aerial view of Carter-Finley Stadium, with the PNC Arena visible in the background.
The NHL crew will build an ice rink over the football field at Carter-Finley Stadium for the Stadium Series game on Feb. 18.

The crew then builds up the ice until it’s two inches thick, higher than the 1 1/4 inches required in an indoor NHL rink. 

“This is mainly to offer extra protection against weather elements — whether it’s a little bit warmer, or maybe a little bit wet, on the week of the game,” said Davis.  

The most significant weather challenge the crew could encounter during the game is heavy rain.

“Light rain is okay, but once you start getting heavy rain, you can get standing water on the ice,” said Davis. “Obviously, that wouldn’t be great to skate in, but the other big problem is that it can start to melt the ice from the top down.” 

To monitor potential weather threats, Johnson will be on-site at Carter-Finley during the Stadium Series game. It won’t be unfamiliar territory to him. He has served as a weather consultant and game day meteorologist for NC State Athletics for several years, primarily for football games.

“At the football games, I’m on-site to keep an eye on thunderstorms, rain and any sort of potentially dangerous weather that we would need to take action for,” said Johnson. “By bringing me on, [NC State Athletics] is able to monitor the weather and get a jump start on getting people out of the stadium and to safety before the bad weather starts.”

Corey Davis and his mother in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room at PNC Arena.
Corey Davis and his mother tour the Carolina Hurricanes locker room. Photos courtesy of Corey Davis.
Corey Davis at a Carolina Hurricanes game with his mother and aunt
Davis attends a Carolina Hurricanes game with his mother and aunt in January 2023.
Corey Davis and family in front of the RBC Center (now known as the PNC Arena)
Davis attends a Carolina Hurricanes game with his parents and sister in 2009.

Luckily, the forecast for the upcoming Stadium Series game looks promising so far. 

“We’re looking at temperatures in the 60s, maybe even the 70s for Thursday and Friday, with a good chance of rain during the day on Friday. But it looks like all of that clears out,” said Johnson. “We’ll be back to near-freezing on Friday night.” 

The forecast for game day is sunny, with air temperatures topping out in the lower 50s. 

“That should set them up very nicely for the puck drop at 8 o’clock on Saturday night,” he said. 

A Milestone Moment

While Johnson keeps an eye on the rain forecast at Carter-Finley on game day, Davis will be soaking up the energy at the stadium. 

“Back when the Hurricanes played at the Greensboro Coliseum, they did not have nearly the fan base that we do now,” said Davis. “They would curtain off the upper-level sections. Everyone was down in the lower levels of the arena, which really helped you get up close and personal to the game. Those were some of the first really exciting sports moments in my life.” 

But the Stadium Series game is gearing up to be the most exhilarating yet. 

“It already sends chills up my spine just thinking about what the atmosphere is going to be like with over 50,000 fans at Carter-Finley,” he said.