Ice goes in before the game goes on

World-class ice maker Mark Shurek prepares Grand Slam sheets

Published on April 14, 2014
Ice technician Mark Shurek rolls out a decal on the ice of the Players' Championship of the Grand Slam of Curling at Eastlink Arena, while volunteers on his crew make sure the hose doesn't disturb other decals before flooding. Other volunteers prepared the rest of the venue for the event, in cooperation with Credit Union Place staff.
Michael Nesbitt / Journal Pioneer

SUMMERSIDE – With $400,000 in prize money on the line for the Players’ Championship of the Grand Slam of Curling, teams expect the best ice possible, and Mark Shurek is in the city to make certain it happens.

Shurek, head ice technician for the event, is based just outside of Winnipeg Manitoba but has made his career on ice, being involved with the Grand Slam of Curling since its inception in 2001.

He has also been icemaker at the European championship, the Canadian Curling Association Scotties and Brier, and the World championship. He has built on the experience and traditions inspired by a mentor, award winning icemaker Hans Wuthrich, who is from Gimli, Manitoba, where Shurek grew up.

Typically, Shurek arrives at a Grand Slam venue with one assistant, because he likes to have at least one familiar person to work with, but he needs a crew of at least eight to create the ice, and six to maintain it during the event.

The total preparation team of about 20 involves mostly local volunteers, but is sometimes augmented by visitors to the event such as Eldie Benson who came to Summerside from Collingwood, Ontario.

The advantage of that system is that Shurek gets to meet new people at each venue he works, offering an occasion to expand his knowledge as well as share his expertise.

“(Sharing is) always a goal. When I first started, that’s how I learned, by going to an event where ice makers shared (information),” Shurek admits.

The philosophy seems to overcome any concern over quality control.

“We have some time to work with people prior to the games, so we get to know everyone and find a place for everyone. It’s a team, really: we all work together and make it happen,” Shurek praised.

Typically, they start with hockey ice, painting over the markings with white paint to create a clean canvas. Then they use a metal rig to paint the house rings – red, white and blue – so that each presents to within one-sixteenth of an inch in diameters to the others. Then the logos are lined up and secured, before general ice flooding is completed.

The flooding takes about 36-40 hours, set in five or six stages to build from one-half to three-quarters of an inch of surface, aiming for level ice. The event uses its own water treatment equipment to ensure water quality, de-ionizing the water to remove minerals and changing its pH to produce the ice quality demanded.

Then it is scraped and shaped to ensure that curlers can make the shots they need.

“Put a shape to the ice so that the rocks will curl the same inside out, outside in,” Shurek explained.

Once play begins the ice is simply maintained unless something drastic happens, otherwise it would change the conditions for curlers.

Shurek doesn’t foresee any problems with the five sheets in the modern, Eastlink Arena facility at Credit Union Place, even with changing temperatures expected during the week of play.

“Heat’s your friend; we can make ice cold. I’d rather it warm than cold. Unless it’s 90º (Farenheit) in here, it’s not going to affect us,” Shurek assured, praising also the cooperation of the Credit Union Place staff in the process.

Kristi Petrushchak, managing the event for Sportsnet, is proud to bring the event back to Summerside, citing the success of the previous edition of the Grand Slam of Curling held in the city.

It is an opportunity to showcase the sport, this year featuring 12 teams each of men and women, and provide opportunity for young players to watch the best in action.

The event will also include a Junior Grand Slam of Curling session on Sunday, in which two boys and two girls teams compete on the world-class ice.

“There is such a science in (ice making), it’s amazing,” Petrushchak marveled.

The Junior Grand Slam participants will also have professional curlers as mentor-coaches during their games, and future “Rock Star” youngsters will get a chance to throw some rocks, as will Special Olympians.

Petrushchak sees it as building the curling franchise.

“One of the things near and dear to us is to build that grassroots program. Without these guys wanting to get better and better, we don’t have an event,” she assessed the process of developing elite players.

Having the best ice in the world is as encouraging for that process as it is for the players in this final Grand Slam event of the year.

“We’ve got $400,000 on the line. They want good ice because they want to go home with a lot of cash in their pockets,” Petrushchak acknowledged.