Dave Merklinger’s Olympic adventure has kicked off a few weeks earlier than he anticipated. Hired to oversee the ice making for the men’s and women’s curling at the Vancouver Games, the manager of the Vernon Curling Club didn’t expect to leave for the Mainland until a week before the games.
An unexpected visitor Tuesday morning changed all that.
“I was just in the club at 10 in the morning and a girl comes in and asks ‘I’m kind of looking for somebody that would like to run the torch?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m doing the ice for the Olympics, I might as well carry the torch while I’m at it,’” explained Merklinger.
In minutes, he was kitted up in an Olympic track suit, torch in hand, and ready to run a 300-metre section of the Vernon torch relay.
Proudly waving the $400 torch he bought as a souvenir, Merklinger laughed: “At the end they asked if I’d like a bottle of water, and I said ‘No, but I’d like a nice cold beer.’”
Chuckled Wayne Laface, who will be Merklinger’s assistant in Vancouver: “It cost him $12 a metre.”
With Merklinger and Laface running the show, it will be the first time an all-Canadian duo has supervised the ice making at the Olympics. They already have plans on how they can put their signature on the ice, and improve it from previous Games.
“The quality of ice in past Olympics has been alright, just a little inconsistently straight. So now they’re finally going to give it to the hands of Canadian ice makers,” said Merklinger, 55.
Added Laface: “We can guarantee one thing, and that is there will be lots of swing.”
Having tended the ice at the Vancouver Olympic Centre at Hillcrest Park for last year’s junior nationals, Merklinger and Laface are already familiar with the new facility. They will also have most of the ice crew that worked that event back for the Olympics. If there is one variable that might pose a problem at the venue, it is the 6,200 seating capacity.
“Vancouver is a rainy part of the country. There’s going to be lots of humidity and when you get 6,000 people in there it just adds to it,” said Merklinger. “They’ve gone over and above spending money to ensure we have the right dehumidification systems – the rest is up to us.
“I pray that the curling gods allow us to make really, really good ice for these guys to perform on. That’s really what it boils down to. If they can have good conditions, they’re going to be able to showcase curling the way it should.”
As one of the top ice makers in Canada, and therefore the world, Merklinger has prepped the ice for every other major curling event on the planet. From the Twin Anchors Curling Classic to the world championships, he has done it all. And from former women’s world champion Jennifer Jones to Team France – who specifically travelled to the Vernon club to prepare for Olympics – he has the respect of the world curling elite.
“First time for the Olympics, but now I can say I’ve done every major event. That’s it, so now they can put me out to pasture,” grinned Merklinger, who curls third for Laface on Wednesday nights in the Capri Insurance Super League.
Merklinger says it was a no-brainer to bring 66-year-old Laface along for the job.
“He’s done enough. He makes really good ice and he’s saved my butt and made this ice what it is here today. So I said ‘You know what? You’re coming with me, old man.’”
Before they can begin worrying about Vancouver, Merklinger and Laface must first tend to the Canadian Direct Insurance B.C. Men’s Championships, which start Monday at the club.