Scotties chief ice technician Dave Merklinger (right) with son and deputy ice tech Mike (second from left) work with volunteers at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Mark Brett/Western News

Father son team smoothing things over for Scotties

A father and son team are looking after the ice for the annual Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Like father, like son.

It’s said the acorn does not fall far from the tree and the ice-making Merklingers are a prime example.

Dave Merklinger, 62, and son Mike, 37, are teaming up to smooth things over, at least on the base layer, at the annual Scotties Tournament of Hearts which runs Friday through Feb. 4 at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Dave, known as “Merk” to friends and colleagues, is described as the “fun loving” manager and ice maker at the Vernon Curling Club.

His skills, like those of his mentor, the late Shorty Jenkins, have earned him world-wide recognition.

Installation of the four surface sheets for the Scotties over the existing ice at the SOEC began after last Saturday’s Vees junior A hockey game.

Since then, the pair have been working day and night with about 20 volunteers to get things ready for Thursday’s first, evening practice.

Related: Scotties Tournament of Hearts a stone’s throw away

While the Merklingers roles as chief and deputy ice technicians at major bonspiels may not be immediately apparent to onlookers, what happens on and because of the ice, definitely is.

The ice temperature is impacted by everything from humidity to the heat generated by the thousands of bodies in the stands and is critical to the playing conditions.

Icemaking for Dave, like his son, was an evolution from his fondness of the sport as a player.

“It’s a passion for curling, I love curling, I love the game of curling and I’m so humbled by the game of curling that to be able to make ice for a championship like this is incredible,” said Dave as he watched the progress earlier this week. “To be quite honest, his (Mike’s) job, my job is to provide entertainment. We have to have entertaining enough surfaces for the players to be able to perform well and make it entertaining for the spectators that are paying to see it.

“With this ice you have to be very careful. The temperatures have to be precise because the curling stones react to the slightest variance in temperature.”

There is another family connection to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Dave’s younger sister Anne is a two-time runner up in the event and in 2010 received the Scotties Builders Award.

Last fall Dave was inducted into the prestigious Governor-General’s Curling Club.

This is the ice maker’s second working visit to the SOEC having been the chief ice technician for the World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling in January, 2013.

“It’s a fine building and hopefully we’ll provide the best ice possible again this time,” said Dave.

Nearly 50 years on ice for Merklinger

For Dave Merklinger, a nearly half-century of ice making began as a teenager in Trenton, Ont. in 1969.

“I turned into a rink rat working for Shorty Jenkins part time for french fries and hot dogs and maybe a buck an hour … it was more the food though and working on the ice that I enjoyed,” he recalled.

It was also during that time he won the Ontario Juniors curling championship.

“Shorty Jenkins (who passed away in 2013) was a famous ice-maker and what I learned from him I pass on to him (son Mike)”said Dave. “I’ve been making ice for more than 40 years and doing these events since 1990. I’ve been at it for a long time and that’s why I’m bringing him along because I won’t be here long.

“He’s (Mike) been making ice for 15 years. He learned from me, the dumb ass. I told him to ‘stay in school, look at me.’ He’s smarter than me though; he doesn’t drink or smoke.”

Mike has been the ice maker at a number of curling clubs including Royal City (New Westminster), Langley and Cloverdale.

“I worked for my dad when I was in high school part-time and when I was done school I just got into it,” said Mike. “You need to learn and I think there really is a passion for ice-making.

“I’ve been curling for as long as I could slide around. It’s a good game and I enjoy making ice now more than I actually do playing, especially for the high level curlers.”

Related:Scotties Tournament of Hearts ups the excitement with new elements

Dave is very cognizant of how important his work is to the elite of the country’s curling competitors and there is a mutual respect on the part of ice-maker and curler.

“We have a good rapport, I have no problem with the curlers and they have no problem with me. If I see something going south, like last year in St. Catherines (2017 Scotties). I took them all and we had a meeting about what was going to happen,” he said, not specifying what the issue was at the time. “My job is to make them look good and the only way they can look good is by feeling good and so if they feel good and they’re comfortable they’ll make lots of shots, I hope.

“If something is not right, I’ll know just by watching the expressions on their faces and we might even know before the curlers do.”

Work for the father and son team for the next 10 days will start at 6 a.m. and go to 11 p.m. to keep the rocks sliding smoothing.

With notes from Kevin Mitchell: Vernon Morning Star.

 

Dave Merklinger (foreground) and son Mike (centre) watch over the creation of the curling surfaces. Mark Brett/Western News

The father and son team of Dave and Mike Merklinger will be working as the ice technicians for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Mark Brett/Western News

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