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NSC’s own Ryan Hevern returns from the Olympics with indelible memories

03/08/2018, 11:45am CST
By Barclay Kruse, Chief Communications Officer

Ryan Hevern, one of the Schwan Super Rink ice technicians, was tapped to work as an ice tech at the recently completed Pyeonchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. If you missed it, here is an article we published in January, prior to his departure.

Hevern returned to the U.S. February 26. After he caught up on sleep and conquered jet lag, I sat down with Ryan in the Hat Trick Café at the Super Rink. He shared vivid memories, so many that I had a hard time figuring out where to start. But why not start with a moment from the end of the games, a memory that Ryan himself thought was “surreal?”

Here goes:

Ryan Hevern at center ice at the Winter Olympics.

After three weeks of long hours and work stress, Ryan Hevern found himself rink side at the Gangneung Hockey Center as the men’s gold medal hockey game wound to its conclusion.

“My job was to stand right next to the German bench, and after the game ended my job was to run out and retrieve the net,” said Hevern. “When the Russians scored the final goal (to win in overtime,) I threw the door open and went out on the ice and bee-lined it for the goal. So I’m weaving between all these sticks and gloves, Russian players are skating all around me. We had to get the nets off the ice immediately.

“They wanted everything off the ice for the medal ceremony, before they started rolling out the carpets.

“As soon as we pulled the goal through the Zam(boni) door and set it down, there were four guys with razor blades cutting the nets off to go the Olympic Hall of Fame.”

With that, Hevern took a deep breath and said to himself, “That was surreal.”

Three weeks earlier Hevern had arrived in Korea with a crew of eight ice technicians recruited from National Hockey League arena ice crews. Three were from Minnesota; others represented Canada, Colorado and Utah. Japan sent a handful. Once there, they met their Korean counterparts. Their job was to form a team that could deliver NHL-quality ice at the two hockey venues, Gangneung and Kwandong Hockey Centers.

“At the beginning, communication was very difficult,” Hevern said. “Things got lost in translation. So there were a lot of hand gestures. Eventually we started to mesh.”

The combined Korean and U.S. ice tech team backstage at the Olympics.

Hevern said the hospitality of the host Koreans was never in question.

“They welcomed us as part of the team. If you were standing up, they’d come up behind you with a chair. They’d deliver ramen noodles, apples, and shrimp-flavored chips, which weren’t the greatest, but I’d still eat them.”

“Right away we noticed the pressure,” he said. “It was the most pressure I’ve ever experienced. There were cameras everywhere. The first day we met the NBC broadcast team. Jeremy Roenick was one. They saw Adam Stirn (from Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota) and me sitting there and they asked where we were from. We said we were from Minnesota, and that we work for the Minnesota Wild. They said, ‘Thank God, we’ve got some people who know ice. We’re good to go.’”

Hevern driving one of the new Model 650 Zambonis at the Olympics. Photo: Julio Cortez, Associated Press.

The ice techs set to work. Each venue had a competition arena and an adjacent practice rink. The practice rinks had been painted, but now they needed flooding and freezing. There were technical challenges.

“The ice dried up,” Hevern said. “The air was so dry that you’d lose ice, just from evaporation. You had to keep all the doors shut all the time to try to keep the air currents down to keep the ice from drying up. We did a lot of flooding to keep the ice.

“But once the games started, they broke in the ice really well, and it was NHL-quality ice. We got compliments.”

And then there were the new state-of-the-art Model 650 Zambonis that none of the ice techs had experience driving.

“The front is bigger so it changes the sight lines,” Hevern said. “The water control valves were backwards, so you’d be shutting the water off, thinking that you were putting it on. The buttons were on the other side. It took us a good couple days to get used to driving those.”

There were other cultural discoveries.

The food? “Delicious,” said Hevern. “Korean barbeque. Soju (a Korean liquor.) I miss the food already.”

Emergency alerts? “Earthquake, cold weather advisories, dry-conditions fire alerts. I’ve never had so many emergency alerts in my life,” said Hevern. “They were all in Korean.”

And then there was the North Korean cheer squad, dressed as what one New York Times reporter called “A cross between Pan Am stewardesses of the 1960s, ‘Red Sparrow’ and the Dallas Cowboys cheer squad.”

“It was pretty unreal,” said Hevern. “You had these western songs blasting over the PA, and you could just see the shock on their faces.”

And body guards taking them to the restroom. “One by one,” said Hevern.

The cheer squad notwithstanding, the games involving the unified South and North Korean men’s and women’s hockey teams provided some of the most indelible memories for Hevern.

“You’ve never seen so much Korean pride,” he said. “You’d find yourself rooting for them. When they scored, that was as loud as it ever got. The whole building shook. You got goosebumps.

“You didn’t grasp the gravity of it, but we were in the middle of history. We were just doing our jobs, driving in circles making ice, but we were in the middle of history.”

Ryan Hevern shot this photo of the USA women's hockey team celebrating their gold medal.

And then there was the USA-Canada women’s gold medal game.

“The best part of the entire experience, in fact my whole life, was standing behind Maddie Rooney’s net for the gold medal game,” said Hevern. “She was rock solid. And seeing how close that game was. It was unreal. We had tears in our eyes when she made that final save. Watching them drape the flag during their celebration. It was out of this world.

“I didn’t get to drive for that game, but my boss did let Adam and me resurface after the celebration. We call it ‘resurfacing the tears.’

“When we were passing each other on the ice, the building empty, we just smiled at each other. We are actually here and we’re making the final ice after the women’s gold medal game. It was absolutely the best part of the trip and one of the highlights of my life.”

Hevern is far right in this overhead view of the Olympic ice crew. Photo by Julio Cortez, Associated Press.

But let’s go back to the moments after men’s gold medal game, and the realization that their work had suddenly come to a close.

“We were hugging all the Koreans,” said Hevern. “We had developed a relationship with these guys. Up until point it was just work, work, work. But suddenly our work was done. We all had tears in our eyes.

“We walked to the back of the Zam room, and took one last look. The Russians were out on the ice celebrating. We opened up the door, and the light shot into the Zam room. It was right out of a movie. We all took one last look back to see the history that was being made. Then we all walked out the door. It was quiet.

“One of the other drivers said, ‘Wow, that really just happened?’”

Tag(s): NSC Blog