Tampa, Florida -- Starting with a concrete floor, Tampa Bay Lightning workers are spending all day Thursday laying down the ice for the new NHL hockey season.
Whether that season will start on time October 11th is still up in the air; the league's owners have locked out the players as they negotiate a new contract.
But the ice crew still had to be at the Tampa Bay Times Forum at 5 a.m. Thursday to start the hours-long process of turning the frosty 15-degree concrete floor into a professional-caliber sheet of ice.
The team's ice operations manager, whose name is -- I kid you not -- Tom Miracle, leads the process.
Followed by a half-dozen helpers handling a thick blue hose, Miracle paces the ice, spraying water in a pattern that blends the work of an artist with the work of a guy on a tractor mowing a big front lawn.
His key equipment is a ten-foot-wide contraption made of copper pipe. Nozzles are spaced a foot apart along its length. Miracle pulls it along as he walks, and a mist of water flows out behind him like the train of a wedding dress.
After about three hours, the base coat will be in place. Then the crew will use a special paint -- "Developed by ice makers, for ice makers" the package boasts -- to paint the ice white and add markings for hockey.
After the blue lines, circles, and sponsor logos are perfectly placed, another round of spraying will put a final coating of ice on top.
In the NHL's past, workers used to paint the markings right onto the concrete floor and then lay down the ice, Miracle said. But techniques have changed over the years.
White paint is new, too. Before it became common, marks from skates used to turn the bluish ice into a white color, Miracle said.
A range of groups from the community will get to skate on the Forum's ice over the next few weeks. Kids and adults from local club teams, all 18 nearby high school hockey teams, and others are coming to skate for free.
Also on display at the Forum is the massive new HD video board, installed after the Republican National Convention. It measures 30 feet by 50 feet and is the largest video board in any indoor arena in the U.S. or Canada.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are set to begin their 20th season in the NHL this year.
Before calling the Tampa Bay Times Forum home, the team played in St. Petersburg at what's now Tropicana Field and at Expo Hall on the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.