In the past 77 years, the American Hockey League has served as a great testing ground for the NHL — whether it’s developing player and coaching talent, officiating or new rules. But during the 2013-14 campaign, several AHL teams proved to be innovators more than 100 feet above ice level. And before long, arenas all across North America and Europe will follow suit.
That’s because four more AHL arenas joined the Syracuse War Memorial Arena to present their games under the brilliance of LED lighting. These four arenas in Binghamton, Bridgeport, Rockford and Toronto removed antiquated metal halide systems and installed the LED lighting system from Ephesus Lighting that they played under in Syracuse the previous season.
“Our focus on player development has centered on creating a premium environment for our players. In addition, we are always looking to create the ideal experience for our terrific Toronto Marlies fans,” explained Dave Poulin, vice president of hockey operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs. “With the recent addition of our new lighting system at Ricoh Coliseum, we have taken another step towards both of these goals.”
LED is the natural evolution of arena and stadium lighting for many reasons, but most importantly, it provides an optimal stage for events, players and fans. LED makes sense for the owner who wants the payoff from a long-term investment; the facility operator who wants flexibility and reduced maintenance and operating expenses; and the team who wants reliability and premium lighting for fans.
For coaches it’s about how the dramatically improved lighting levels change the game.
“The difference the Ephesus lights make in our arena is literally the difference between night and day. As a player and coach it gives you energy walking into the building,” explained Syracuse Crunch head coach Rob Zettler.
“With the new lighting system in place we have created an NHL environment at the Ricoh,” boasted Marlies head coach Steve Spott.
Many players have commented on how the improved lighting makes a difference seeing the puck.
“I can honestly say the lights at Ricoh this season have been a huge improvement. It is definitely very comforting to have this standard of lighting as a goaltender,” said Marlies goalie Drew MacIntyre.
Syracuse goalie Cedric Desjardins, who has played for six different AHL teams as well as the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lighting, agrees. “The lights add a huge value to our Crunch home games. Their brightness helps our vision on the ice during games and allows for me to better track the puck.”
Since all arenas are used for a variety of events making the decision to change from metal halide lights to LED has to satisfy more than just hockey players, coaches and fans.
“We have had rave reviews on our new LED lighting system at the BMO Harris Bank Center,” said Gordon Kaye, executive director and general manager of Rockford Area Venues & Entertainment. “From Rockford IceHogs hockey to monster trucks the users of our arena and fans have seen a noticeable difference in our facility. It has enhanced the experience of everyone that interacts with our facility.
“Behind the scenes we have found the Ephesus lighting system to be easy to use with little to no maintenance as compared to our old lighting system,” he added.
To illustrate Kaye’s point, the savings and benefits experienced when the War Memorial Arena converted to LED lighting last year were dramatic. Power consumption was reduced from 1,150 watts to 297 watts and overall power consumption for the season was reduced from 263,000 kilowatts to just 32,000 kilowatts for an 87 percent energy savings, all while light levels increased by over 100 percent — from 105 foot candles to 217 foot candles.
“With a dozen sports arenas in the U.S. making the switch last year to LED, it is truly a credit to the AHL that five of the arenas serve as home ice for its teams,” said Mike Lorenz, president of Ephesus Lighting. “Playing under the lights in Syracuse last season and hearing the positive feedback from Crunch ownership, players and fans encouraged them to make this bold choice. As a result, hundreds of facilities all across North America including several more AHL venues have inquired about making the switch.”
“The entertaining light shows we have created for player introductions and after goals truly enhanced the game experience for everyone,” said Howard Saffan, president of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. “Our fans and players grew to expect the flashing lights and really drew energy from it. This is something we were unable to do with our old system and a great benefit that shows off the versatility of LED.”
Players, coaches, fans and arena owners are not the only one’s benefiting from the new lights. Christian Bonin, a team photographer for the Toronto Marlies, explained how the new lights have helped him.
“For photographers, lighting is everything. The new lighting system at the Ricoh is lights-out amazing for photographers like me who have to shoot lightning fast sports action using only ambient available lighting. This new lighting system has so vastly expanded the types and quality of photos I can provide the Marlies.”
Even though every AHL team starts a new season not knowing what the future holds, it certainly appears that in the AHL the future of sports lighting has arrived.