Home-ice advantage? Canadian ice makers take over Olympic venues

Canadians have key roles at 5 out of the 6 ice venues

Home-ice advantage? Canadian ice makers take over Olympic venues
Kyle Lamkey Zamboni © Devin Heroux/CBC Sports

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

When Canadian athletes compete at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, they'll have a familiar feel to the ice beneath their feet.

Canadians have key roles in the ice-making at five out of the six venues at the Olympics; Gangneung Hockey Centre, Kwandong Hockey Centre, long track speed skating, curling and the Olympic sliding centre.

Kyle Lamkey is one of the ice technicians tasked with making the hockey ice. Not only that, he'll be driving the Zamboni throughout the tournament.

"For a Canadian, success as an ice maker at the Olympics ends with Canadian gold medals for the women and men," he said.

The Hamilton, Ont.-born ice maker got his start at city rinks 17 years ago, when he was 14 years old. He got his big break three years ago as a lead ice technician with the Edmonton Oilers. Then just five months ago, Lamkey got a call from the Toronto Maple Leafs to be the building operations manager at the Air Canada Centre. Now he's making ice and driving the Zamboni at his first Olympics.

"This is the biggest stage in the world. Obviously it's an honour to be called upon to do this," he said.

But what about that lucky loonie everyone wants to know about – is there one buried under the ice in Pyeongchang?

"No loonie in this ice," Lamkey said. "I've been asked a few times if I could sneak one in and it's not going to happen."
Lamkey does hint at some of his Zamboni driving superstitions as a boost for Canada and the paint used for the ice.

"The paint product is called Jet Ice, manufactured in Ontario," he said. "Everything on the surface from lines, to logos to the paint is all Canadian."

Lamkey is scheduled to drive the Zamboni at both the men's and women's gold medal hockey games. 

Speed Skating magic?

For the past 31 years Calgary's Mark Messer has been making speed skating ice. He got his start just prior to the 1988 Olympics in his hometown. This is the seventh time Messer is part of the ice making at the Games.

Messer arrived in South Korea on Dec. 28 and since then has been trying to get the Gangneung Oval in pristine condition for the speed skating event.

"It looked bad. It was dirty. It was a construction zone still. We got some help and started making ice on Jan. 2," he said.
Messer assembled a crew of eight for the Games. Seven of them are from Canada. 

"It comes down to having pride in your work. And when that happens you float to the top," he said "I think it's a Canadian thing to have pride in your work."

But is there a lucky loonie at the speed skating venue?

"No," Messer said with a smile. "There's no loonie under the ice. Truly. That's been done. I can honestly say at this point there is nothing in the ice except good ole Canadian know-how."

What Messer hopes for is skaters achieving personal bests on his ice and in as many cases as possible, they're Canadian.

"We hope our presence here makes them feel at home. I think they probably get a level of comfort seeing us making the ice," he said.

Looking for that golden touch

When Hans Wuthrich makes curling ice at the Olympics, Canada has won gold three out of four times. He was responsible for the ice making in Vancouver, Sochi and now this year in Pyeongchang.

Does Wuthrich think it can happen again? 

"It's not a walk in the park like it used to be," Wuthrich, who is from Gimli, Man., said. "Canadians aren't above the other teams like it used to be."

There has to be something in his ice though, right? A lucky loonie at the curling venue?

"We're not allowed to. After Vancouver we got strict instructions that if we do it again we'll be fired," Wuthrich said. 

Wuthrich's ice will host the traditional men's and women's team events. It will also host the historic debut of mixed doubles curling beginning tonight, creating three potential Canadian curling golden moments on his ice.