Curling sheet a fickle mistress

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

There is no applause and don't look for the name in the standings or on the scoreboard.

The most important participant in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts provincial curling championship was up from before dawn and burning the candle at the back end. But there are no TV lights. The only time anyone takes any notice is when things go wrong.

Welcome to Roy Arndt's world -- head ice technician and Puddle Enemy No. 1.

As Alison Goring, Krista Scharf and Jenn Hanna reached for glory and a playoff spot yesterday, Arndt sat unnoticed by the sport's adoring public in the bowels of the Dixie Curling Club, reaching for temperature gauges. An ice-maker by trade, this is the biggest event of his career and, he said, the metamorphises of a curling club that was on the precipice of despair and ruin.

"It has been a busy week. It's actually kind of funny, almost surreal now that they're out there playing. We're measuring temperatures, timing rocks but actually standing and watching them curl I've seen maybe 10 shots. My event is totally different than their event."

Arndt often lives at the club from 6 a.m. until midnight. He's 34 and he's had an understanding girlfriend for three years -- at least he did when he last had time to check. A sheet of curling ice gets more attention than a baby's butt. It's pebbled. It's cultivated. It's kept at 23.4 degrees with Arndt constantly flipping condensers and ice temperature controls.

"With all those people on the ice the heat has to go somewhere and it goes into the ice. It can go up 7/10ths of a degree during a game."

On the other hand, if he lets the ice cool; suddenly a shot that went to the button in the third end winds up at the top of the 12-foot in the decisive end. "That's when curlers get upset; they complain," he said.

NO COMPLAINTS

So far, nobody's complaining. Just like Hanna, Arndt is toying with living in a perfect world. It was not always such: He joined the Dixie club six years ago. Troubled times. "Crossing the border back into Canada from Winnipeg, I beat the first plane that hit the tower by an hour." He must've wondered what he was getting himself into. "This club was a joke. The equipment was lousy and they'd lost all of their competitive curlers. It was a laughing stock."

Friends in Winnipeg wondered why he'd even go. "But I was in a daycare at a curling club when I was two months old. I've been making ice since I was 16. I know curlers are good people all over the world. Historically, they're farmers who when the crops were done needed someplace to drink. They formed curling clubs. I knew there'd be good people here."

Nobody is laughing anymore. The club spent $300,000 on equipment -- condensers, a new chiller and dehumidifiers. Two years ago it was awarded the Tournament of Hearts. "This is the biggest event I've ever had," Arndt said, noting Don Powell of the Weston Golf and Country Club has been his leaning post just as Scharf leans on lead Lorraine Lang. "I owe him a big steak dinner. I was nervous but he took that all away."

A monitor blips, showing ice temperature surging a tenth of a degree. He flips on two more cylinders and the whir of a machine kicks it up a notch. For him, there is no national championship berth at stake. Just his livelihood. "After this event my contract's up. I want to stay. There's lots of country clubs that pay a lot of money but I'm not a suit and tie kind of guy."

And, oh yeah, he'd like his girlfriend to know he should be through work about Sunday midnight. And, good news! His next shift doesn't start till Monday morning. Slacker.


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