PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Don’t believe anyone who tells you the NHL isn’t here. The NHL has sent the very best to the Olympics.
The very best Zamboni drivers.
They are called ice technicians, and even though it looks like a joyride to wheel around a rink in a giant ice-making machine, it’s actually a very specialized task.
So specialized that South Korea simply didn’t have the experienced people to do the job on the world stage.
“There’s not a lot of skating [in South Korea] in general,” said Ryan Hevern, 26, who is here from Saint Paul, Minnesota. “They tried to have them do it at first, last year, then they realized they needed to call in bigger help.”
Enter the all-stars of the NHL.
In fairness, not all of the ice techs here work at league rinks. But Hevern does. On Monday he was stationed at the training rink where Team USA skated through practice before its first match on Wednesday. Hevern’s dad was also a Zamboni driver and taught Ryan the trade after he got done with high school. He started driving at Xcel Energy Center — where the Minnesota Wild play — in 2014.
Hevern talks Zambonis with the same exuberance that Tony Romo talks football play-calling.
“Shave, wash and flood,” he said, going through the three principles of great ice. “Straight lines look nice. You gotta read the ice. You need to know what the temperature on the surface is and what the temperature on the base is. You gotta listen to them when they’re skating to know whether to adjust the compressors, turn it colder, or let it heat up a little.”
This is not easy stuff. It takes years of training and the Koreans didn’t have that kind of time. So the PyeongChang Olympic Committee brought in Colorado’s Don Moffatt to be Chief Ice Maker. (Yes, that’s his title.) He’s the wizard with 31 years of experience who handles everything from the Olympics to the NHL outdoor games. “When ice needs to be made,” Hevern said, “they call in Don Moffatt.”
And Moffatt called in Hevern, along with seven other techs from North America. The three from Minnesota are staying in one hotel triplex (call it Club Zamboni) and having a blast.
But, again, this is no junket. The world is watching and Hevern easily goes into shoptalk whenever he can.
“There’s a window on the dump tank where the snow is shot into,” he explains. “You can gauge by how it’s filling how much you’re shaving. You don’t want to overfill. You want to go at a sufficient speed so that you don’t run out of water to make it look glossy. It’s about timing.”
There’s even the occasional game film. Hevern says he notices when he sees footage of another driver leaving the dreaded “Nike Swoosh” of unmade ice in his wake. He says that comes from not paying attention and “rocking the wheel too much.” Worse still is wh