Rain, rain, go away: Scotties ice crew battle weather conditions in Sydney

When Dave Merklinger woke up Friday and saw rain in the forecast he knew he was in for an ice-making adventure in the lead up to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Wild Card game. But the veteran head ice technician doesn't panic in the face of changing weather conditions and the playing surface is under control now as the tournament is in full swing.

Head ice technician Dave Merklinger working his 17th Scotties

Dave Merklinger, shown in this 2016 file photo, is responsible for maintaining perfect conditions for Canada's top curlers at the 2019 Scotties in Sydney, N.S. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

SYNDEY, N.S. — When Dave Merklinger woke up Friday in Sydney, N.S., and saw rain in the forecast he knew he was in for an ice-making adventure in the lead up to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Wild Card game later that night.

"Rain and humidity. Let's talk about it," Merklinger said. "They have dehumidifiers in this building. They work pretty well."

The head ice technician for this year's Scotties doesn't panic in the face of changing weather conditions but admits Friday's full day of rain leading to the one-game showdown between Team Scheidegger and Team Einarson was challenging.

"I kind of feel sorry for the wild card game itself. It's the first game. It's tough. The ice surface needs to cure. You need some curling on it," Merklinger said. "That wild card game isn't easy for us and probably isn't easy to curl in."

But the veteran has it under control now as the tournament preliminary round begins.

"It takes some time to catch onto the ice. Especially with the rain. Getting a handle on handling the temperatures is always a little tricky," Merklinger said.

Never before has Merklinger made ice in Centre 200 in Sydney. Each arena poses unique challenges — the crew of 18 took over the venue late last Saturday after the final hockey game was played and worked around the clock for days before the event started.

"Every rink is different. Most have the equipment to keep the ice frozen," Merklinger said. "That's the key. Don't want any fish jumping out of the water."

What frost?

There will always be comments and critiques of curling ice. Merklinger has heard it all over his ice-making odyssey.

He first pebbled a sheet of ice 50 years ago, in 1969.

So when fans, players and media start talking about ice conditions, Merklinger is unaffected by it all.

"We're all humans. We all have our own opinions. I can't stop people from having an opinions," Merklinger said.

Through the first two days there has been a lot of chatter about frost buildup on the ice because of the high humidity. But Merklinger is quick to respond to any suggestion of frost.

"That isn't frost you see out there. There's no frost out there," he said. "They'll say it's frost but it's not really frost. Maybe there's as bit of buildup on the edges. It won't affect the rocks badly."

17 Scotties later

This is Merklinger's 17th time doing the ice at the Scotties. His first women's national championship was 1987 in Kitchener, Ont. He's done every major curling event over all the years.

"I love this. I've always loved this," Merklinger said. "I still get to play in front of crowds doing the ice. It's exciting. It really is."

He's competed in the Brier, so when it comes to good ice, Merklinger knows how crucial it is for the players.

"They know we're doing our best to make them look good and put on a good show," Merklinger said.

More than anything, Merklinger points directly to the volunteers he's worked with over the years for his ice-making success. He says the locals always step up wherever he goes.

"It's amazing. It's always the volunteers doing the brunt of the work. This is 16 days for these guys," he said. "The locals make this happen. That's how curling works."


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