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Guide for Coaches: Choosing a Hockey Ice Rink With Synthetic Ice vs. Natural Ice

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Hockey Coach with Players at Practice

Coaching an ice hockey team, you are the leader of a small pack of enthusiastic young sports warriors. Their skill and dedication determine whether you win or lose each match, but those qualities are built with endless practice throughout the year. As the coach, choosing a hockey ice rink for team practices is up to you. 

You can determine where, when, and how often your team gets to practice and what conditions will prepare them for their future matches. One of the most important choices you can make is whether to book natural ice or synthetic ice rinks for team practice. 

There are interesting pros and cons for each option, and a blend of both is often the best option to keep your team sharp all year. KwikRink can help you compare natural vs. synthetic ice rinks and what’s best for your team. You can also contact us to learn more.

Choosing a Hockey Ice Rink for Team Practices

When looking into which rink to book for hockey team practice sessions, a few different elements come into play in natural vs. synthetic ice. You need affordable after-school and weekend session times, rink conditions that compare to official matches, and locations the whole team can get to for practice. But more subtle factors may also come into play, like downtime delays and even seasonal availability. 

Natural Ice Rink Practice

Choosing a Hockey Ice Rink - ice hockey sport kids players.

Natural ice rinks are a layer of ice over a sealed court, maintained at a specific level and smoothness for safe skating. For team practice, you’ll need a rink that is well-maintained and available during your practice and game seasons. 

An ice hockey rink of natural ice must be of regulation size with lines painted below the ice that will guide your team through planned moves and plays. Because ice hockey games are played on natural ice, you will get the most realistic practice conditions from natural ice.

Texture and Glide

Natural ice develops a certain texture as it freezes, re-freezes, and is cut by hundreds of skate lines over the course of practice or public skating. Your team needs to be very familiar with both the glide under their skates of natural ice and how to deal with ice that is not perfectly smooth as it warms and is re-cut again and again.

Temperature and Gear

Natural ice is also inherently cold. Your team will need to wear protection, especially over their hands, to protect from the risk of frost and cuts during natural ice practice, just as they will during official games.

Maintenance Downtime

Natural ice requires regular maintenance and downtime. There is a potential risk that your booked practice sessions will be cut short if the rink decides it’s time to take out the Zamboni during practice. But then, you’ll have the smoothest possible ice to work with afterward.

Seasonal Outdoor Rinks

In choosing a hockey ice rink, outdoor rinks are only available in the winter during freezing weather.

Session Booking Cost

Indoor natural ice rinks tend to be slightly more expensive to book because they require constant maintenance and – in the summer – a great deal of large-area cooling.

Synthetic Ice Rink Practice

Teenage hockey players in uniforms

Synthetic ice rinks are constructed of a special polymer formula known as VHMW-PE or Very High Molecular-Weight Polyethylene. This is an extremely dense, unusually smooth “plastic” that, with a special coating, simulates the glide and durability of natural ice without the need for cold or maintenance. 

In choosing a hockey ice rink, VHMWPD synthetic ice rinks are remarkably similar to natural ice on skates and can give your team all-year, indoor, or outdoor practice time when natural ice rinks are costly, too far away, or not available.

Texture and Glide

Synthetic ice rinks have a smooth texture and very similar glide to natural ice. The glide distance is slightly less than natural ice, but they also do not become cut or need to be regularly smoothed the way natural ice does.

Temperature and Gear

As you might guess, synthetic ice rinks are room-temperature, therefore, can be used without cold-protective gear during warmer weather seasons. This is a great option for choosing a hockey ice rink when your team wants to stay in practice all year.

No Maintenance or Downtime

Synthetic ice rinks do not need constant Zamboni time. You can wipe them down once a day (or even less) just like you would a roller rink surface or a countertop, and they will provide a reliable, smooth glide.

All-Year Outdoor Rinks

Synthetic ice rinks are also ideal for outdoor practice because they never melt and only need to be swept or wiped down to stay clear of dirt, leaves, and twigs. This makes them great for off-season practice.

Session Booking Costs

Synthetic ice rinks are typically more affordable than natural ice because they require much less maintenance and don’t even require indoor cooling in the summer. If your local park has a synthetic rink or practice surface, it might even be free.

Private Practice Surfaces

Lastly, VHMWPD synthetic ice surfaces can be built to any size, so smaller practice areas just for practicing shots or specific moves can be created and may be available in your area for more flexible practice planning.

How to Plan Your Team’s Ice Rink Practice Space

In choosing a hockey ice rink for your team’s practice time, your best experience will likely come from splitting practice between both natural and synthetic ice rinks. While natural ice offers perfect authenticity for game conditions, synthetic ice rinks are near-perfect simulations without the cold, maintenance, or higher cost. 

To learn more about synthetic ice rinks or find synthetic ice practice areas in your region, contact us today.

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