THE MOTLEY CREW
It’s 5:25 a.m. on Sat­urday, March 1 and David Fraizer, man­ager of ath­letic facil­i­ties and events at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, is unlocking the ser­vice door at the west end of Matthews Arena, home of the Huskies since 1930.

Fraizer, BHS’80, MS’90, is the first one in the building on this chilly morning, a con­spic­uous pres­ence among 5,000 empty red seats.

Just eight hours ear­lier, the women’s ice hockey team had skated to a dra­matic 2–1 vic­tory over the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necticut in the quar­ter­final round of the Hockey East Tour­na­ment. A mere seven hours from now, the men’s bas­ket­ball team will rally from a second half deficit to defeat the Drexel Dragons on Senior Day.

But this is not a sports story—this is a tale about the art and sci­ence of trans­for­ma­tion. This is a glimpse into the cama­raderie, hijinks, and loy­alty of more than two dozen men and women who rise before dawn to turn the ice hockey rink into a bas­ket­ball court in two hours flat.

They are staff in ath­letic facil­i­ties, building ser­vices, and the trans­porta­tion, receiving, and ware­house depart­ment. They are inter­na­tional grad­uate stu­dents who hail from far-​​flung cor­ners of the world and local under­grads who bake muffins for the crew. They are con­trac­tors who work for Olympia moving and storage, an award-​​winning com­pany founded by a North­eastern alumnus. And they are the ones who make it pos­sible for you to catch a bas­ket­ball game in the after­noon and a hockey game at night at the world’s oldest con­tin­u­ously used multi-​​purpose ath­letic building.

They are so com­mitted to what they do,” says Fraizer, as crewmem­bers begin to arrive at 5:45 a.m. “They have a spe­cial place in their hearts for the uni­ver­sity and are willing to make the commitment.”

WORK AND PLAY
Sat­urday marks the season’s 15th and final changeover. “Yeah,” Fraizer jokes, “it’s a sad day for the guys.”

But it is sad, in some ways; the com­po­si­tion of this group, like any pro sports club, is bound to look dif­ferent next year, even if the crew’s core remains intact.

What will become clear over the next two hours is that these crewmem­bers love working together. “Chem­istry,” says Fraizer on more than one occa­sion, “is the most impor­tant thing.”

One of the most impor­tant crewmem­bers is John Negrotti, the ath­letic facil­i­ties coor­di­nator. He’s respon­sible for the ice, which must be kept at 17 degrees and mea­sures between 1-​​and 1-​​¾ inches thick.

I main­tain the ice so Dave doesn’t wake me up and yell at me,” Negrotti jokes. Adds Fraizer: “Coaches and players say this is the best ice we’ve ever had. We’re always adding water to it and shaving it down.”

At 6:02 a.m., Chris Labriola, an 18-​​year vet­eran of the trans­porta­tion depart­ment, drives a golf cart onto the pris­tine sur­face, smooth yet unslip­pery. The cart is hitched to a wagon car­rying a score of 4-​​by-​​8 fiber-​​reinforced panels, the insu­lating prop­er­ties of which trap cold air.

A few min­utes later, a crewmember don­ning a black safety helmet places the first of some 540 panels atop the ice in the corner of the rink’s east end. It’s secured by a 100-​​pound dumb­bell, a crude tra­di­tion pre­dating Fraizer’s tenure.

Though unso­phis­ti­cated, the dumb­bell is a cru­cial com­po­nent of the panel-​​laying process, which Fraizer likens to “putting a jigsaw puzzle together.”

The man in charge of the puzzle pieces is William Smith, super­visor of ath­letic facil­i­ties, who has over­seen about 150 changeovers in the last 10 years. “I do a lot of yelling and pointing and super­vising,” says Smith. “The toughest part of the job is showing people how to do things correctly.”

Or telling them what to do: “Thir­teen, four­teen, fif­teen, six­teen, sev­en­teen,” he shouts, pointing to spaces on the ice where the num­bered panels belong.

Says Fraizer of Smith: “You have to be a taskmaster if you want to get the job done.”

‘I’D NEVER SEEN SNOW
By 6:35 a.m., the ice hockey rink looks more like a roller hockey rink. Every fiber-​​reinforced panel has been put in place and had time to cool and contract.

Smith is aiming to finish the con­ver­sion by 8 a.m., when Drexel is sched­uled for a shootaround, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The crewmem­bers doff their safety hel­mets and break into small groups. One begins carting pieces of the pol­ished maple wood court from the alcoves beneath the seats at the arena’s west end to the newly pan­eled floor. Another starts taking down the Plex­i­glas boards, which con­tain shock absorbers that have helped reduce con­cus­sion rates among hockey players since being installed a few years ago.

Real tem­pered glass is heavier and more unfor­giving, so we decided this was the best way to go,” says Fraizer. “The problem is that it scratches easily, so we have to replace it every few years.”

Olympia’s Ben Lin­guli is working on dis­as­sem­bling the penalty box boards. He moved from Kenya to the U.S. just eight months ago and says, “I’d never seen snow before coming here.”

Some 50 feet away, Negrotti and Smith are laying the first of the bas­ket­ball court’s 240 seg­ments. When they com­plete the middle column, they run a pink string from end to end, which helps deter­mine if the pieces have been prop­erly aligned.

Do you have to start again if the center column isn’t straight?” Smith is asked.

No,” says Smith. “We just beat it with a hammer.” This time, the hammer stays in the toolbox.

A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
At 7:10 a.m., two crewmem­bers push a spring-​​loaded basket system to the court’s east end while their col­league dry mops the wood. The hoop is cov­ered with a trash bag to help keep dirt off the net.

Fun fact: the bas­ket­ball ref­erees’ whis­tles are wire­lessly con­nected to the game clock; when they blow, it stops.

But right now the crew must keep going.

It’s 7:45 a.m. and one group is draping sec­tions of red seats in fire-​​retardant vinyl tarps, which were cre­ated using a computer-​​aided design pro­gram. Another is placing court­side seats and risers behind each basket system.

A burst of sar­casm inter­rupts the rou­tine: “Three months he’s been working here,” Labriola tells a col­league about a fellow crewmember in earshot, “and this is the first time I’ve seen him carry anything.”

Mean­while, a crewmember is standing atop a 20-​​foot exten­sion ladder, taking down a plastic card that says “PENALTY” and putting up one that says “FOUL.” Two more guys are set­ting up cir­cular tables in “The Spot,” a family-​​friendly gath­ering space on the floor’s east end.

One of them is Pruthvi Challa, MS’15, who grew up in India and joined the crew in Sep­tember. Prior to enrolling at North­eastern, Challa had never watched a hockey game.

It’s fun to be here,” he says during a short break to dis­cuss his role on the team. “Ice hockey is some­thing new to me, but I have started liking it.”

And then he’s back to work.

IN THE DOGHOUSE
Bill Coen, head coach of the men’s bas­ket­ball team, arrives at Matthews Arena at 8:06 a.m., some five hours before tipoff and a few min­utes after the crew has com­pleted the majority of the conversion.

At 8:10 a.m., the crew learns that Drexel has decided to skip the shootaround and Smith declares his desire for a cup of fla­vored coffee, a reward for a job well done. “How,” he asks, “do you think I keep run­ning around?”

Most of the crew will rest between now and the end of the bas­ket­ball game, in which the vic­to­rious Huskies over­turn a five-​​point deficit in the final 45 sec­onds. Others might help pre­pare Par­sons Field for the base­ball team’s home opener on Friday.

Either way, the crew’s day is not over. At about 3:30 p.m., the team will have about two hours to turn the court back into a rink for the men’s hockey game against Boston Uni­ver­sity at 7 p.m. The crewmem­bers finish that job in one hour and 37 min­utes, a new record.

At the end of the day, we’re trying to create an atmos­phere for our teams and our stu­dents that is con­ducive to suc­cess,” says Fraizer. He is framed by a phrase in thick, red let­tering, posi­tioned on the wall in the east-​​end bal­cony. It reads: YOURE IN THE DOGHOUSE.