While much of the attention at next week’s B.C. Men’s and Women’s Curling Championships will be on the rock throwers and sweepers, there will be at least one man who will be focused on the surface they are playing on.
Mike Merklinger, who has been tasked with turning the West Fraser Centre into a curling rink, has been making ice for 13 years and manages the ice at clubs in Langley, Peace Arch, Cloverdale and Royal City.
He comes from Canadian ice making royalty. His father, Dave, has been chief ice technician at a number of high-profile curling events across the world, and he has learned everything he knows from him.
All that knowledge will be put to the test this week as he installs the curling ice in Quesnel.
“It’s just kind of a different level,” Merklinger said when comparing preparing a curling club versus converting a hockey arena.
“I think the biggest challenge with it is curling rinks are a small, controlled environment, and you’re going into a new environment where they don’t normally have curling ice, so it can be difficult just figuring out the building and the environment.
“Just because you can make hockey ice in a building doesn’t mean you can make good curling ice.
“They’re both ice but it’s very different.”
Assisting Merklinger in preparing the ice will be Cody Hall from the Victoria Curling Club
“We’ve worked together a few times before, so he’s someone I can trust and I know is going to help me.
“All we have is four days,” he said of the timeline to make the arena into a championship-level curling facility.
“We’re going to arrive on Wednesday and we get access to the area at 10 o’clock and we have to have it ready to play on by Monday morning.
“It’s a tight turnaround for us so I’m bringing Cody along with me just to make sure we can get it done.”
Merklinger said volunteers will play a large role in maintaining the ice during the tournament.
“There’s going to be a lot of volunteer hours put into the ice. There always is.
“That’s a big part. Just maintaining the ice and keeping it consistent for the week.”
The ice maker says he and Hall will be there all day every day at the tournament.
“We’re basically in the building from six in the morning until the last rock’s thrown at 10 o’clock at night and then we’ll try to get some sleep and do it over again.”
When asked to compare the making of curling ice to ice hockey ice, Merklinger said it is a whole different endeavour altogether.
“With curling ice, there’s a lot more maintenance that goes into it,” he said.
“It’s a higher maintenance surface, which is a lot more fine-detailed than hockey ice.
“With hockey ice, they’re driving around with a Zamboni to keep it in playing shape but curling’s different.
“The way I sort of look at it is the difference between playing on a really well manicured golf course and a poorly manicured golf course.
“The thing with hockey ice is it can be out of level and nobody would ever know, you’re just skating around shooting pucks. But if you put a rock on that and you throw the rock, it’s going to pick that slight bit off and you’re going to notice it for sure.”
Although it would seem the sport of curling would get tiring to watch after devoting so much time to the surface it is played on, Merklinger says it is important to improving his craft.
“We do watch a lot of the curling because that’s the best way to know what your ice is doing, right?
“We’re curlers ourselves, so we understand the game and what ice should be doing and shouldn’t be doing.
“Sure, it gets a little tiring watching that much curling in a week, but it ends up becoming a blur and you’re just watching rocks go down the ice and not actually following the game.”