‘Curlers expect 100 per cent’: Ice techs play key role in setting stage at Scotties

Dave Merklinger has made a career out of flipping hockey rinks into curling arenas.

His professional ice-making gig takes him around the world, setting the stage for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Tim Hortons Brier, world curling championships and the Olympic Games.

But the job holds more pressure than you might think.

“If the ice goes a little south or something, ice conditions change, there’s only one person to blame and that’s me,” Merklinger said.

Merklinger is the chief ice technician (CIT) for the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask. It’s his 18th time as part of the Scotties ice crew, his 17th as the Scotties CIT and his second in the Friendly City.

“It was successful the last time we were here,” Merklinger said. “The second time around it will actually hopefully be easier.”

As CIT, Merklinger leads a team of 20, building the Scotties stage from the ground up.

It’s a process that starts about a week before the event.

But once the ice is in, the work doesn’t stop.

“The curlers expect 100 per cent ice. That’s why we’re here and we’re going to give it to them,” Ewasko said.

Ewasko said it’s all about keeping ice conditions consistent.

After every game, crews scrape the ice before spraying drops of water on the surface — a process called pebbling. The droplets freeze in a peak, allowing the rocks to slide from end to end with less friction.

Once crews are finished pebbling, they go back over the ice.

“We clip the ice, which means we take the very top parts of the pebble off to flatten the very peak of the pebble to allow the rocks to curl more,” Merklinger said.

Constantly monitoring temperature and dew point throughout the week, the crew has the success down to a science.

“Basically paying attention and watching,” Merklinger said. “We’ve been at it long enough that we can see how much it’s curling. We time rocks to see how fast they’re going down the ice.”

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts officially kicks off with the Wild Card game Friday at 7:30 p.n. at Mosaic Place.

Opening ceremonies take place Saturday at noon.

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