What started out as an idea over "a couple of Mooseheads" has developed into a thriving business for a pair of St. Thomas University alumni.
From Fox Television's Skating with the Stars, to Chucky Cheese Restaurants in Saudi Arabia to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Scott Seely and Ed Wisz have made their mark.
Seely and Wisz are the co-inventors of a ice-resurfacing contraption known as the Ice Wizard.
The two grew up together in Long Island, N.Y. and went on to become roommates at STU, where Seely was a right-winger with the Tommies from 1986-88. Both men and their families have since settled in Richmond, Va.
Seely, son of the late Norman (Rip) Seely and Bette Seely of Saint John, is a commercial pilot for Delta Airlines but his new venture has allowed him to take fewer flights so he can be home more often with his wife Georgia, a dermatologist, and their children Caroline (4) and Joseph (5). Wisz's day job involves the acquisition of land and construction of cellular towers.
Belonging to a year-round recreation facility in Richmond, that includes tennis, swimming and skating, Seely and Wisz were two of the members who would volunteer to clean the ice. But it was the old, back-breaking, snow-shovel method.
About five years ago, they began discussing how they might make things a little easier and came up with an idea that would eventually be known as the Ice Wizard, sort of a baby Zamboni.
"We rigged up a 1969 Sears lawn tractor with a car jack we welded to the centre of it and mounted a blade so it would drive around and scrape the ice," said Seely, 38. "We also made a little trailer to carry a water tank around and we put a towel on it to make the ice smooth. That worked okay, but we still had to shovel the snow off of the ice and we were too lazy to do that. Plus the fumes were getting to us. Since I was into golf, we borrowed a cart from our local golf pro and put a machine together. The rest, as they say, is history."
Seely said he's thankful his father got to see their invention before he died four years ago. Rip Seely was a legendary figure in Saint John basketball circles having been voted the best player of the century.
"He got to see the first machine we built and thought we were crazy," said Seely.
The parent company for the Ice Wizard is called Ragged Point Industries. That name surfaced after Wisz bought a summer place in the Millidgeville section of Saint John a while back, the same place where the Seelys have had a summer home for 51 years. It's where Bette Seely lives today.
Scott Seely's ties to Saint John are still strong and his older brother, Norm, lives in Fredericton. His sister, Wendy, also attended St. Thomas, but has settled in Greenwich, Conn.
"I did all my growing up in Saint John. It's still home to me," he said. "We'd head up the day school ended and go back to New York on Labour Day for school. In fact, I was two weeks away from being a Saint John native." Seely was born on Sept. 20, 1968, just after Rip and Bette returned to Long Island.
The Ice Wizard's patent application was published this year and they expect to have full U.S. and international patents this winter.
According to a press release in an American inventors journal, "The Ice Wizard is ideal for studio-sized ice rinks of 8,000 square feet or less. It can be easily maintained because it consists of a few simple components: a tow vehicle, a water storage tank, an icebox with an adjustable scraper blade, and a three-point hitch that raises the icebox up and down."
Also, the Ice Wizard is powered by six six-volt rechargeable batteries, thus not producing any fumes.
"Ed and I saw a need in the smaller ice rinks for an ice-resurfacer that was easy to use and cost efficient. Coming up with the Ice Wizard just made sense to us," said Seely. "Our success has grown quickly as we start to not only service domestic customers, but also international locations."
Seely and Wisz have sold 34 units world-wide this year and they sold 26 last winter. There are now Ice Wizards in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, England and at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Several have been sold in the U.S. along with four in Mexico but just one in Canada.
Most of the Saudi Arabia sales came through the Chucky Cheese chain, which house small rinks throughout the desert country.
Fox purchased one Ice Wizard for its Skating with the Stars reality TV series last year and the holiday rink at the base of the Eiffel Tower is also maintained by an Ice Wizard.
"They are mostly used in shopping malls around Christmas time for the holiday rinks," said Seely, who also played one season with the Fredericton Alpines and spent four seasons in the minor-pro ranks. "Our machine was also used for that TV show called Skating with the Stars last year."
In all, the company has approximately $300,000 in sales this year. Once an order is placed, the two get together in Seely's garage and assemble their creation in about two and a half hours.
"It's amazing how the thing has taken off," said Seely. "I'm telling you, about 20 minutes after our web site was launched, we got our first phone call from a man with a real thick accent and we've been going ever since."
© 2006 Telegraph-Journal (New Brunswick)
Length: 946 words
Keywords: TPSPORTS; TP SPORTS
That’s 32,000 blades shaving down the plate of ice with every thrust of the legs.
The 36-by-100-foot rink, which opened Nov. 23, will invite skaters again this season, rain or shine. But maintaining a sheet of ice fit for thousands of skates isn’t easy. In fact, there’s much more to it than meets the eye.
Though ice is clear, skaters at Market Square can’t see what’s just below their feet, thanks to a special white ice paint that hides an important system below.
One continuous line of flexible PVC, about the size of a quarter, snakes its way back and forth under the whole rink, carrying the chemical glycol, part of the alcohol family.
Ice rink founder Larsen Jay says it works like antifreeze and is connected to a giant chiller unit. Jay says the glycol in the pipe remains liquid while it “actually freezes the water around it.” To make the rink, water is poured into a liner and freezes through contact with the pipe.
“The glycol runs all the time, every day,” Jay says. “When the rink opens, the ice is maybe only an inch or two thick over the piping.”
But as more water is added daily to make new layers, the ice grows faster than it’s shaved off, winding up 5 to 6 inches above the pipe by the end of the season.
Thanks to the continuous cooling of the glycol, which enters the pipe at about 8 degrees and returns to the chiller at about 10 degrees, when water is added to the surface “it freezes almost instantly … I mean five minutes at most,” Jay says. “On a busy Saturday, we might resurface three times.”
Jay says a small golf-cart-like ice resurfacer (similar to the Zamboni brand) does the work, but “we put hot or warm water in the back of it.”
George Schweitzer, professor of chemistry at the University of Tennessee, explains it this way: “There is a belief among a number of scientists that when you heat water, there is less air dissolved in it, and that may affect the structure of the ice.”
He said it is a general belief that using hot water “might form a better ice structure.”
But maintaining the ice requires more than fresh water, whether hot or not. Because the rink is outdoors, ambient air temperature is critical.
Jay says if the outside temperature rises above about 70 degrees, the ice “melts faster from above with the outside air than we can chill it from underneath.” He says if that happens, the ice gets slicker, “which is not good.” A tent protects the ice from rain, but if condensation forms and drips down, small humps are created that a shovel or pick must fix.
Debris like leaves must be kept off the rink, too.
“Anything you put onto ice generates heat,” Jay says, recalling a year when crews placed a rubber mat on the ice so a ladder could be erected on the rink. But the mat was left over-night. “The rubber mat was part of the rink. … We had to pry it out and then fill that entire square full of water.”
Other obstacles come from below.
Market Square is hostile territory when working with water. Jay says the location is “not only not level, but not square.” Market Square crowns in the middle, sloping toward the lawn away from the stage.
Construction crews solve the problem by filling a large frame — about 4 inches high on the side facing the stage but about 12 inches high facing the lawn — with No. 10 aggregate, es-sentially a type of gravel.
The total: nine tons of aggregate.
It’s better than sand, which was used the first year of the rink. After the sand was dumped out into the area, Jay says the result was a “huge plume of sand smoke,” which left a film on shop fronts.
Despite problems of the past, thanks to hard work, 37,000 people have skated on the ice, while thousands more have watched in the past two years.
“It’s a bit scientific to make sure it’s just right,” Jay says. “It takes about a month to set the rink up” for just over a month of skating.
“It costs a lot of money,” Larsen says. “It takes several hundred thousand to produce the entire thing, and it takes a staff of up to 40 to make it happen. … It easy takes 1,000 man hours to make it happen every year.” About half the cost is construction related.
But Larsen says the rink’s charges are less than it would take to cover the costs, because of corporate sponsors who advertise at the rink and pay much of the bill.