Cranbrook has undergone a transformation this weekend, and for the next week will be, inarguably, the curling centre of the world. Hence known as the Land of Rock and Ice.
More than 60 teams from across Canada and the world are arriving in town for the largest sporting event Cranbrook has ever hosted — Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling, part of Sportsnet’s Tour Challenge. Opening ceremonies and the first draw are set for Tuesday, Nov. 8, at Western Financial Place.
Both Cranbrook’s main ice surfaces — WFP and the Memorial Arena — are hosting the action. And over the weekend one of Canada’s top curling icemakers and a team of curling technicians and volunteers were working long hours transforming hockey rinks into Grade A curling rinks.
As the crew was getting set to lay out the lines and etch the outline the outline of the rings on the newly painted ice at WFP, icemaker Mark Shurek took a moment to discuss the science of curling ice making. Consistency over the course of the tournament is the desired goal.
“The main thing curlers are looking for is not much change,” Shurek said. “As ice makers, we want to start the event out with ‘x’ amount of curl, four and a half feet of curl, and maintain that throughout the week so there’s no change for the curlers.
“It’s much easier for them to play their games, and know what they’re getting.”
The process is writ on the arena scale, for major tournaments like the Grand Slam.
“It takes about three days for us to transform this nice hockey rink into a curling rink, essentially,” Shurek said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of man hours — we’ve got 16 volunteers in this arena, 16 in the other.”
Once the curling ice is set to go — painted and flooded — the work of maintaining its consistency will last right through to the finals on Sunday.
“For every game we’ll scrape the ice, pebble it, nip it, and run the rocks up and down so it’s nice and keen for the curlers, and very consistent,’ Shurek said.
Shurek became one of Canada’s top curling ice makers by apprenticing with the best. He grew up curling in Manitoba, and when he 16 found himself curling with Hans Wuthrich, legendary Canadian curling ice maker — who’s made curling ice for the Olympics, the Briers and other major events.
“Five years after that I ended up helping [Wuthrich] out on the rink, and a couple years after that I got the opportunity to make the ice for the Grand Slam of Curling. So that’s how I got into it.”
Making curling ice in an arena, for the top teams in the world in a major televised tournament, is a different manner of beast than for a little small town country club, although the principles are the same.
“Some people find it difficult,” Shurek said. “I’ve been very fortunate to do a lot of arena events — I’ve done over 150 events. So this is like a curling club to me now. You always learn something — there’s something new every day, but I’ve got a pretty good handle on it, and we try to do our best for the curlers.”
Shurek spoke about what set the Grand Slam apart from other major tournaments.
“This is an event for the players. It’s a very free and open atmosphere. Players talk to the crowd, give autographs to the kids, even in the middle of a game. And the end of the day, players want the sport to grow. The players work at it to make the event joyful for everyone.”
Shurek also had words of praise for the community and the local staff and volunteers from their efforts and help.
“I want to stress that the arena staff has been excellent,” he said. “The arena staff, the volunteers, it looks like it’s going to be a great event. Everything’s coming together through teamwork.”
Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling, to be broadcast on Sportsnet, runs Nov. 8-13 at Western Financial Place and the Memorial Arena in Cranbrook.