Canadian Curling Association ice technician Dave Merklinger floods one of four sheets of ice at the Centrium in preparation for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The national women's curling championship runs Feb. 18-26.

Canadian Curling Association ice technician Dave Merklinger floods one of four sheets of ice at the Centrium in preparation for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The national women's curling championship runs Feb. 18-26.

Scotties ice makers feeling the heat

They weren’t handing out medals for making curling rink ice at the Vancouver Olympics.



They weren’t handing out medals for making curling rink ice at the Vancouver Olympics.

But if they did, it would have been a gold medal performance for ice technicians Dave Merklinger, Eric Montford and Hans Wuthrich.

Montford and Merklinger, who have teamed up again in Red Deer for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, rank those 2010 Olympic sheets as among the best they’ve ever made.

“It turned out fantastic,” says Merklinger, 57, taking a break after painting the circles on the four sheets that will host the country’s top women curlers beginning today.

The Olympics gig carried “heavy-duty pressure” and a three-year commitment, which made the rave reviews all the sweeter.

Merklinger, from Lavington, near Vernon, B.C., and Winnipeg’s Montford have spent the last few days turning the Rebels’ home rink into four world-class curling sheets worthy of the sport’s best women.

Merklinger is bringing 43 year of ice making experience — 38 as a full-time professional — to the rink. Montford, 49, has been making ice for more than 30 years and is Merklinger’s assistant in Red Deer.

The pair are both national ice technicians for the Canadian Curling Association.

“Basically we’ve got to turn a hockey rink into a curling rink in not a whole lot of time,” Merklinger says.

“As you can see, we have a ton of volunteers here and you need ’em. A lot of them are ice technicians in their own right and they’re here to learn some tricks of the trade and advance their own ice-making skills.

“I think there’s 20 volunteers, just on the ice rink.”

Merklinger and Montford began work early Sunday afternoon. By noon Monday, he’d finished painting the circles and had the rest of the lines and logos completed by late evening.

The next few days were spent laying down water and pebbling, a technique that gives the ice texture with droplets of water.

There are many factors that have to be taken into account when trying to create the best possible surface. Outside and indoor air temperatures, humidity levels, the heat from lights and the crowd all must be factored in.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time so there’s a lot of anticipation,” he says.

Merklinger is familiar with the setup in Red Deer, having been the ice maker at the 2004 Scotties held here.

“I have to provide entertaining ice for the players that they feel confident on throwing with curl, that looks good on TV and looks good to spectators.

“Basically that’s my job — make them look good.”

Curlers, who can be very particular about their ice, rarely come away other than impressed.

“When they come here it’s quite a bit different than their curling clubs. For some teams, it takes a few games to get used to it, but after playing on it they go, ‘I never want to go back to my curling club. I want to keep playing on this stuff.’

“This is the show. They deserve good ice.”

Good ice maintains its consistency from start to finish so players aren’t faced with a surface that gets heavier or straightens out rocks.

While the tournament is underway, he monitors the compressors to ensure the ice temperature remains constant. Air circulation must also be maintained so the building doesn’t get too hot.

Merklinger, who is a competitive curler himself when he finds the time, threw his first stone as a 12-year-old in Winnipeg. He had moved to Trenton, Ont., when as a teenager he took his first stab at making ice under the tutelage of Shorty Jenkins, a legendary ice maker in curling circles.

“Just the love of the game basically,” he says when asked what drew him to ice making. “I had no aspirations of being a doctor or a lawyer. I could have been a plumber,” he adds with a chuckle, “but I took up ice making.”

Thirty years in Ottawa followed before he decided to see what the West was like and moved to New Westminster, B.C., in 2000, where he managed the rink for a number of years. He’s been managing and ice making at the Vernon Curling Club for the past four years.

His son Mike has followed him into the business and makes ice in Vancouver. A daughter teaches school in Ottawa.

The two ice-making Merklingers worked together at the Continental Cup in Langley, B.C., last month.

Merklinger said he typically takes on only two or three of the big events a year.

“You can’t do too many of these. They kill you. They do. They’re hard on your body because you’re going 16, 17, 18 hours a day and 16 days — it’s not easy.

“As much as there’s pressure on the players, there’s as much pressure on us as well.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read