When the sun rises on Super Bowl Sunday, February 4, in the Twin Cities, Schwan Super Rink ice technician Ryan Hevern will be at MSP Airport, boarding a flight and getting out of town. Hevern’s not trying to avoid the big game; he just has a bigger and better gig – the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Hevern was tapped to work as an ice technician at the two hockey arenas, the Gangneung and Kwandong Hockey Centers. It was an assignment he eagerly accepted as a professional honor, and a reward for years spent learning his craft.
Ryan Hevern started working at the Schwan Super Rink when he turned 18, after growing up watching his father drive the Zamboni at the Coon Rapids Ice Center.
“When I was a child I used to watch my dad who would drive the Zamboni at the Coon Rapids Ice Center,” he says. “When I turned 18 he helped me get a job here at the Super Rink. That was in August of 2010. I started learning the basics of how to drive a Zamboni, and then a few years went by with some good help from some great people and I got the ice tech job.”
Ice technicians do more than driving ice resurfacers, although driving is an important part of the job.
“You have to make sure ice temps are good,” he says. “That the surface temperature is good, that the ice base is right temperature. The humidity has to be right.
“There are thermostats in the compressor rooms. We monitor temperatures there. There is also a chiller, which has an in-temp and an out-temp, so when it goes into the chiller it gets cooled down. So we check that temp and we can see how effectively the chiller is working.”
The community of ice technicians is a close-knit professional group, and it was those professional connections that helped Hevern land the Olympic assignment. On top of his Super Rink responsibilities, Hevern moonlights on the ice crew for Minnesota Wild NHL games at the Xcel Energy Center, and just recently has been putting in hours to get the ice in top condition at the Tria Center, the Wild’s new St. Paul practice rink.
“I never applied for this job,” he says. “My boss at the Xcel Energy Center, Travis Larson, recommended me, and sent my name to Don Moffat, who is the Chief Ice Maker for the Olympics. Don used to work for the NHL, and he likes Minnesota guys. Minnesota guys are really good at making ice. I got really lucky. I worked really hard for many years at the Xcel Center, and I think Travis noticed that. He gave me a huge break, and I’m really grateful.”
The Kwandong Hockey Center will be center for women's hockey, as well as Ryan Hevern's "office" for three weeks at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Hevern will be working at what’s called the Coastal Cluster, a collection of facilities on the Pacific Ocean coast that will house the ice sports – hockey, figure skating, speed skating and curling. A second collection of venues, the PyeongChang Mountain Cluster, will be the home of the all the skiing and sliding sports and the Opening Ceremonies.
While he will be assigned strictly to hockey, working an eight-hour shift daily with the unlikely prospect of any days off, Hevern hopes to take in some of the other ice sports in the free time he does have.
“I will be working exclusively hockey. That’s what I’m really good at,” he says. “But I definitely want to check out the figure skating and the other ice sports. I’d like to make it to the mountain cluster, but we will only have one vehicle for 12 of us so I don’t know how that would work out.”
While the Olympic assignment comes with considerable professional prestige, the minute-to-minute responsibilities are less glamorous.
“Driving of course, but also lots of mopping, sweeping, glass cleaning, board cleaning,” he says. “It’s not glamorous work, but jobs that need to get done. Most of us on the ice crew are U.S. or Canadians, with some Japanese drivers – 12 drivers. Each of us will be paired up with a Korean driver to teach them what we know. From what I’ve been told, the Korean drivers do not know much about ice maintenance, so they want us to teach them what we can so they can make better ice for the future.
“We are supplied three meals a day. I don’t know if it’ll be Korean food or American food. The hotel I’m staying at is a resort hotel and I understand they have a burger joint there, so if I want to eat burgers every meal I could. But how much fun would that be?”
Hevern will spend most of this time at the Kwandong Hockey Center, the smaller of the two hockey venues, with a seating capacity of 6,000. Kwandong will be the home of most of the women’s games. Over the years the Schwan Super Rink has been a frequent training home for the USA Women’s National Team, so Hevern, while professionally neutral, will be pulling for the Americans to win the gold medal.
Team USA has dominated rival Canada at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, winning four straight world titles. But after winning the gold medal at the 1998 Nagano, Japan, Olympics, the U.S. team has ceded the Olympic gold medal to Canada in the past four Olympics, including a crushing overtime loss to Canada in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
“I worked the USA-Canada exhibition game at the Xcel Center in December,” Hevern says. “The USA lost, so I really hope they can win the gold. The first rink I learned to drive on at the Super Rink was Rink 6, which is the home of the National Team so that’s my favorite rink. They are very overdue, and they are a really good team.”
Hevern knows of only three other Minnesota ice technicians tapped to work at the Olympics -- Bob Erickson from Anoka, Adam Stirn from Mariucci Arena, and Dave Hanson from Burnsville – so he knows he’s in select company, and he’s grateful for the opportunity.
“Working the Olympics is kind of the peak of anyone’s driving career,” he says. “But after that I plan to definitely keep working for the NHL and at the Schwan Super Rink. This is my home, and I love it here. I’ve been offered jobs elsewhere, but I can’t see myself leaving. I’m a Minnesota boy.
“I want to thank my dad. Without him I wouldn’t have been at all close to where I am. Brandon Radeke (former Operations Director at the National Sports Center, who now is the ice technician for the Pittsburgh Penguins) gave me the shot to work at the Xcel Energy Center. And I want to thank (Super Rink co-worker) Ryan Quale.”
And of course there’s one final perk. When Hevern boards his return flight home on February 27, will he be sporting some cool Olympic staff gear?
“I’m thinking I will,” he says. “The Olympic uniform is pretty interesting. It’s bright. You’ll see.”
Tag(s): NSC Blog