Making ice for curlers is a tricky business

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

The goal of the icemaker is simple.

Keep the curlers happy and make sure the ice provides for entertaining curling.

After the first three days of competition in the Scott Tournament of Hearts at the John Labatt Centre, head ice technician Dave Merklinger says, "At least they're all still talking to me."

Ice is a tricky business. The business of making it as near perfect as possible never stops. That means keeping it consistent so the curlers know what it's going to do from one end to the other, while keeping in mind that the name of the game is curling and no one likes straight ice.

"Straight ice is not entertaining," said Merklinger. "This ice is pretty good. It can always be better, but I'm pretty happy with it. It's nice and hard and we haven't had many picks."

Picks are something a curler dreads. It can be a hair or some debris that changes how the rock moves.

Merklinger estimates there is a 3 1/2 -to-four-foot curl in the ice. It may change a little as the week progresses, but Merklinger expects it won't change very much. The changes usually happen at the beginning of the week.

That's what happened this week. Curlers participated in the Hot Shots competition and found the rocks curled. As the ice "cured" a little, the ice changed with less curl.

But since that change, the ice has been consistent.

"It's been a little tricky at times, especially if you throw your weight up a little bit, the rocks run," said Alberta skip Cathy King. "But otherwise it's been good."

Andrea Kelly's New Brunswick rink is 4-1.

"The ice has been good for us," she said. "I like it because it has good movement."

There is late movement to the rocks. This allows curlers to bury them, which means more rocks in play.

Merklinger says it's not just the ice that provides the curl but the rocks.

"These rocks (which come from Abbotsford, B.C.) aren't going to (allow more curl) to happen," said Merklinger.

The goal now till the tournament ends is consistency.

"We want a nice consistent curl and speed," he said. "It's important that the speed is the same in the first and 10th end. We want them to be able to draw with confidence. We don't want to see them struggle."

It's always more of a challenge to make ice in an arena with having to shave ice, the change in temperature and crowd conditions. As the tournament moves into the late stages and playoffs, the crowds will increase and so will the temperature. This will mean Merklinger will have to work even harder to keep the ice consistent.


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