GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The puck dropped at Van Andel Arena Wednesday morning for a special matinee game. That may not seem like a big deal until you realize just 14 hours earlier, the Grand Rapids Gold basketball team was finishing up its game against Cleveland.
Switching from hardwood to hard water in a short amount of time is no easy task.
When the final horn sounded Tuesday night, the Gold’s job was done. Kevin Abbott’s job was just beginning. He’s the operations manager for Van Andel Arena.
“I’ve got to stop doing what I’m doing in my office and get out here and help the guys get started doing the conversion over to the next event,” said Abbott.
He has been with the arena since it opened in 1996, so he knows the place like the back of his hand.
“It’s been a wild ride, let’s put it that way,” Abbott said.
Watch a time-lapse of the changeover below.
Abbott and his crews had just about 14 hours to go from basketball court to hockey ice. They’re used to changeovers — they do it all the time for everything from concerts to monster truck shows — but the return of basketball for the first time since the Grand Rapids Hoops left Van Andel in 2001 means extra work for the crew.
“Probably about 12 more changeovers, falling between concerts as well. So that might add more changeovers depending on if you’re going from hockey to Gold, hockey to a concert to Gold,” Abbott said.
Back to the task at hand: Think of the switchover workers as Van Andel’s version of a NASCAR pit crew. Everyone has a job to do and timing is everything. It takes about 70 people to get the job done.
First, the court comes up one section at a time.
“Then we bring out the glass cart and a bunch of the other equipment for setting up the hockey and then we’ll pull the floor up and do the ice maintenance,” Abbott said.
The ice doesn’t melt. It stays cold underneath the basketball court the whole time.
“We have something we call ice deck that we put over the top of the ice and it’s actually only an inch thick but still insulated enough so that the floor doesn’t get sweaty or too cold,” Abbott said.
They’ve got the process down pat. The challenge is people. Like just about every other business, the arena has a tough time hiring workers and getting them to stay. Despite those challenges, the show must go on. Abbott and his crew make sure of it.
“We’ve got a good crew of solid guys that know what they’re doing really well, so they’re able to get train and get everybody up to speed pretty quickly,” Abbott said.
By 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, five hours after the Gold game ended but with eight and a half hours to spare before the Griffins game, the switchover was complete. Abbott and his crew got some sleep, ready to get up and do it again.
Does Abbott ever get to sit in the stands and watch a game after all the activity to appreciate his hard work?
“I don’t have time!” he said with a laugh.