When curling legend Brad Gushue won his record-setting fifth Canadian men’s national championship at this year’s Brier in London, Ont. on Sunday, he did so on ice that an Elmira resident had a hand in creating.
Ken Irwin, who is in his first season as the head ice technician at the Elmira Curling Club, has a long history of ice making on some of the sport’s biggest stages. This includes the 2006 women’s national championship (then known as the Scott Tournament of Hearts), two previous Briers, two world championships, several Northern Ontario championships and multiple Ontario provincial championships.
“It’s really great to see the players out there and them playing and playing well, and not getting too frustrated with ice conditions. We give them the best ice conditions that we can throughout the entire event so that they can play at the top of their game. And for us ice makers, that’s what we want,” Irwin said.
Irwin volunteers his time to help ensure the curlers have quality ice on which to make their shots.
“There were 400 or so at the Brier in London this time. We all pay a $100 fee to join. That’s there to sort of guarantee people will show up instead of getting it [just] to walk in the building, basically a free seat for the whole event,” he said.
Humbly, Irwin said there isn’t anything that sets him apart from other icemakers.
“There isn’t anything specific in terms of the quality or my work ethic or whatever it is that they want. It’s more as a ‘volunteer to come and do this.’”
There is a difference between ice at a curling club like the one in Elmira and arena ice like the Budweiser Gardens in London, Irwin explained
“Arena ice is usually faster. One of the big differences between arena ice and club ice is that obviously in an arena, it’s a much bigger building. With the stands there, when people are viewing, you get a nice sunny day, hopefully cold, there’s no problems. But if you get a wet day, a rainy day, then people come in wet to bring the humidity into the building. And that will affect the ice in terms of bringing frost in.”
The major tournaments are an opportunity for Irwin to learn from others such as Greg Ewasko, head ice technician for Curling Canada.
“I go to events to learn from Greg – there’s lots of things, like this time, I learned quite a few different tricks and then we bring them back to our clubs and incorporate those into our clubs. So that’s the reason why I go to events like that.”
It can be something as simple as having a different end on the pebble can, which is used to spray the ice with water.
“I have copper on [mine], which is heavy. They have a plastic end on [theirs] and it’s a lot lighter. So apparently the weight of the copper and the lightness of the plastic part makes a difference in how the pebble comes out of the pebble can,” Irwin explained, noting he tries to do one major event per season.
“Not sure what my schedule will be for next year, but I always look forward to doing something and being involved with a big event like that. Maybe I’ll do a Canadian junior championship. I haven’t done one of those yet. That might be fun, something different.”