August 3, 2016 - 10:23 pm
As George Salami made one final pass over the milky white ice aboard the gleaming white Zamboni, a group of young hockey players from the Las Vegas Storm program pressed their faces against the glass in the corner.
A few moments later, about 100 of them stepped onto the ice at T-Mobile Arena, their parents recording the proceedings for posterity on their phones or camcorders. Salami, the arena’s director of conversion services, watched with pride as the kids, some as young as 3-year-old Kellen Milton and as old as 16-year-old Gabe Testa, put the rink through its paces.
Shots caromed off the glass and the boards. Pucks clanged off the goalpost, while others found the back of the net. A couple of older wiseguys even checked out the penalty boxes, a place they were likely familiar with from previous games.
“Not bad for the first time,” Salami said.
He and his crew of nine had been building the ice since Saturday, and Wednesday was the christening of what will be the home rink for Las Vegas’ NHL team come October 2017.
“I almost cried,” Salami said. “I mean, this is the NHL. This is the big leagues. My goal is to have the best ice in the entire league.”
Murray Craven, the adviser to Las Vegas expansion team owner Bill Foley, was the first to try out the ice Wednesday. Craven, who played 18 NHL seasons, gave Salami’s ice a thumbs up.
“It was good,” Craven said. “For the first sheet, it was set up real well. It wasn’t chippy, and it wasn’t soft.
“There was a lot of humidity in the building, and I thought the ice held up well.”
Craven noticed the boards were lively, which should make for some interesting caroms.
“The boards have a lot of bounce to them, like in Detroit,” he said.
Salami, who learned how to make ice when he lived in Calgary, said he will make adjustments to the ice as he gets to know T-Mobile Arena better. The next time the ice will be down will be Oct. 7 and 8, when the Los Angeles Kings play two NHL preseason games.
“It’s like baking a cake,” Salami said. “You need to know how your oven works to make the best cake. Here, you need to know your building to make the best ice.”
The Storm players can thank Michelle DiTondo, who works in the MGM Resorts’ department of human resources, for allowing them to skate in T-Mobile.
“I’m a hockey mom myself,” she said. “What better way to break in the ice than to have the kids skate on it?”
Gabe Gauthier, who runs the Storm program, said he wished all 400 players could have taken part.
“We had to limit it to 100,” he said. “Hopefully, the players who didn’t get the chance (Wednesday) will get a chance in the future.”
Gauthier said the ice was excellent.
“NHL ice is better than any other ice, and this is NHL-quality ice,” he said.
Testa, who plays for the Storm’s AA Midget team, agreed.
“This is the best ice I’ve ever skated on,” he said. “The arena is so beautiful. I remember when this was just a dirt lot. Now I’m skating in the arena. It’s the most amazing thing ever.”
And while 3-year-old Kellen Milton might not be able to tell the difference in the quality of the ice, he was having too much fun to care. Sharing the rink with his 7-year-old brother Grayson, Kellen took short, choppy strides, cradling the puck on his small stick and trying to score.
“It was fun,” he said. “The best part was going at the goalie. I scored like five goals.”
Contact Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow on Twitter: @stevecarprj.