Some people call him a scientist. Others are now referring to him as governor. To most, he’s affectionately known as ‘Merk.’
Dave Merklinger, the fun-loving manager and ice maker at the Vernon Curling Club, is known throughout the world for his rink expertise.
He’s in Ottawa this weekend, where he will be honoured at a $50-a-plate dinner Saturday night at the Hunt Club, received a red blazer and was inducted into the prestigious Governor‐General’s Curling Club.
“All I know is that it’s going to be a blast seeing some past buddies and curling people I haven’t seen in a while,” said Merklinger, who planned to golf Friday at the Hunt Club. “I fly home Sunday and it’s back to work Monday morning like nothing happened.”
The 62-year-old, in his 10th year at the Vernon club, started curling in Winnipeg at age 12. He moved to Trenton, Ont. at the start of high school 1969.
“I turned into a rink rat working for Shorty Jenkins part time for french fries and hot dogs and maybe a buck an hour…it was more the food though and working on the ice that I enjoyed,” said Merklinger. “I pebbled my first sheet of ice in 1969.
“The next season in Trenton, I worked at the Trenton Golf and Country Club, again with Shorty, and continued at the curling rink there and also the golf club where Shorty was also the greenskeeper. During my time in Trenton, we won the Ontario Juniors, beating Russ Howard, and he is still pissed at that one. I worked there for the next three years until the family was stationed to Ottawa.”
Merklinger, the “oldest and smartest” of five children, almost entered a different trade.
“I was all set to be a plumber. My father’s friend was going to get me into the union as an apprentice. I liked ice making right away even though there wasn’t a lot of money in it.”
Merk’s son, Mike, has followed his lead as an ice maker, working at the Royal City (New Westminster), Langley and Cloverdale curling clubs.
“He’s been making ice for 15 years. He learned from me, the dumbass. I told him to ‘stay in school, look at me.’ He’s smarter than me though; he doesn’t drink or smoke.”
A father and grandfather of two, Merklinger answered an ad for a job in 1975 as ice tech at the Granite Curling Club.
“So then, I had two clubs and in the next few years, I acquired four more clubs, City View, Carleton Heights, Navy and Ottawa curling clubs…I guess I would say I was a busy boy.”
In 1976, he began working again with Jenkins and getting involved with teaching ice making for the Ontario Curling Association.
”I did many events with Shorty at the provincial level as his assistant. And in 1983, Shorty and I did the World juniors in Cornwall for my first non-provincial event. Shorty and I continued working towards the betterment of the playing surface we all have come to love today.”
In 1977, as skip, Merklinger played in his first mens provincial, doing it again in 1981 as skip and in 1985 when “I was hitting my prime as a curler and ended up winning the Labatt Tankard playing second for Earle Morris and off to Moncton we went for the Brier.”
“What a great few years those were as we travelled the country playing in cashspiels. Along with my curling and ice making during these times, I was a very busy boy, not to mention my family. I was gone a lot and they had to put up with that. I also competed as a skip in the Canadian Mixed Championships in Swift Current in 1997.”
In 1990, Merklinger was awarded the contract to do the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in his hometown.
“This is where I really kickstarted my career as a head ice technician for national events. I have done 14 Scotties as assistant and head ice tech….That has to be a record; number 15 is coming up this year in Penticton (January).”
Merk has worked at multiple Briers and lists the most memorable as the 1997 Calgary nationals where he assisted Jenkins.
“Imagine 18,000 people for one game of curling and we have to keep the surface at the right temperature or it melts instantly. No pressure at all.”
Since then, Merklinger has been all over and been part of 13 world championships, the 2007 men’s in Edmonton and the 2008 ladies in Vernon among his favourites. He will do the ice at the 2018 men’s worlds in Las Vegas.
“It seems I have become a permanent fixture at the Continental Cups as I have done the last seven Cups and will be doing it again in London, Ont. this year.”
Veteran elite skip Jim Cotter of Vernon, a seven-time B.C. men’s champion, loves the way Merklinger creates ice for big events.
“He’s one of the world’s proven best ice-makers,” said Cotter. “He’s been to the (2010 Vancouver) Olympics and the Brier. We’re extremely lucky to have a guy like Merk. He’s a great guy and he’s always done what’s best for the game.”
Merklinger even tossed his weight around on curling rules back in the day.
“When the four-rock rule was being bantered about, I came up with the three-rock rule that we started in Ontario and eventually was used at the Briers and Scotties and all national events for a couple of years before we adopted the four-rock permanently.”
He says there is actually some weird science to making perfect ice.
“There is a lot of science understanding water and understanding temperature and how they correlate to one another. I learned from Shorty and I came down on. We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel.”
The Governor‐General’s Curling Club has no premises of its own and is supported only by club events and donations, but members do from time to time compete in various competitions and bonspiels. The Club’s crested red blazers are a familiar sight at curling events everywhere, including national and international.
In 1967, with the consent and encouragement of Governor‐General Roland Michener, the membership of the Governor‐General’s Curling Club was increased to a maximum of 100 with representation from across Canada. In 1972. a constitution was written and approved by Governor‐General Michener which added a new category of 25 emeritus members.
COTTER FACES SWEDE
Cotter opens the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Masters cashspiel Wednesday morning in Lloydminster against Sweden’s Niklas Edin.
The Masters is the second event of the $250,000 Pinty’s series. Sportsnet’s live coverage of the Masters gets underway on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. (Pacific) on Sportsnet and Sportsnet NOW.
Taking over Lloydminster’s Centennial Civic Centre, the Masters features the top 15 men’s and the top 15 women’s teams from around the world, including eight-time Grand Slam champion Brad Gushue of St. John’s, Nfld. and 2014 Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg.
John Morris of Calgary, who skips and throws third stones for Cotter, won his 11th career title in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling last season at the Princess Auto Elite 10. It was the first top-tier title in the series for Cotter and Griffith
They have Saskatchewan’s Catlin Schneider at second and Kelowna’s Ty Griffith at lead. Teams will compete in a round-robin style bonspiel, contending for a combined $250,000 purse and a berth in the Humpty’s Champions Cup, the final Grand Slam event of the season.
Both men’s and women’s divisions are split into three pools of five teams for round-robin play.