Life on the Fast Track


A smooth World Cup event depends on an equally smooth sheet of ice. It usually takes a minimum of five days to adequately prepare a frozen surface to meet the standards for an international short-track speedskating competition. Four buildings and grounds employees managed to accomplish the task in just 48 hours on the heels of an NMU hockey game and a junior hockey tourney. Despite the rush, their efforts reaped two world records and numerous compliments from athletes, coaches and officials.


You may see Bret Zorza, Dave Klumb, Rick Schwemin (pictured from left) and Cheryl Perroud (not pictured) driving the Zamboni to resurface between hockey periods. But they spend most of their time working behind the scenes to prepare and maintain the ice for university, community and USOEC use. After the Wildcats hosted Michigan Tech Friday, Oct. 17, and junior hockey action wrapped up that Sunday afternoon, the crew embarked on a quick turnaround. They had to get the ice ready for the international speedskaters to begin practicing on Tuesday, in advance of the weekend competition.


“We had to shave the ice down real low to about one-half inch,” said Schwemin. “We couldn’t totally get rid of the hockey lines so we had to hand-paint over them in white and then spray the rest of the surface white as we built the ice back up again. The job is a lot easier if you totally remove the ice and start from square one, but we couldn’t do that because of hockey. It was stressful, but we were positive we could get it done, even in the short time we had.”


The employees also had to remove the plexiglass from the boards surrounding the rink and use an edging machine on the outer fringe of the ice.


Klumb said that the International Skating Union (ISU) official in charge of the ice for all six World Cup short-track speedskating events talked with the crew and explained the standards before the event. He also monitored surface conditions throughout the competition.


“He checked the ice depth and temperature,” Klumb added. “One of the hardest parts for me was that we had to paint two black, one-centimeter lines with a white line in the center for the finish. The finish camera reflects off those lines so it was very important. But it was hard to do because they were so thin and had to be so exact. I had to paint them by hand.”


The crew’s work on the oval impressed ISU and U.S. Speedskating representatives. Canadian skaters Emalie Goulet-Nadon and Eric Bedard praised the conditions during a post-race news conference.


“I felt confident all weekend because the ice was so good,” said Goulet-Nadon. Bedard added: “The ice was amazing. There were two world records set this weekend and that doesn’t happen too often. Also, there were maybe five falls in this competition. That isn’t many at all, so you know the ice was good quality.”


Among the four members of the crew, Zorza is the rookie. He was hired by NMU two months ago, but said related professional experience prepared him for the World Cup challenge.


“I worked at Lakeview for several years and learned a lot by watching some of the other guys there,” Zorza said. “There are seminars and workshops for everything these days, including ice management, but most of us learn by watching and doing it ourselves. The hands-on training is what’s most valuable.”


The veteran – Perroud – has been driving the Zamboni at NMU for about 17 years. She said speedskating requires an extremely smooth surface. The ISU recommended they run the Zamboni at a slower speed to avoid leaving tire marks that might rattle the long, thin, sensitive blades passing over.

“There was a lot of work involved in getting ready for an event of this magnitude, but I felt fantastic when it was finished,” she added. “When people break records, it’s a big thing for people who do ice. It makes you feel like you’ve helped contribute in some way to their accomplishment.”


Even after the World Cup ended and the Berry lay vacant, the NMU employees did not have time to rest on their laurels and soak in the accolades. They had 12 hours to transform the ice back into a regulation hockey rink. While precision and teamwork are vital in speedskating – particularly in the relay events that thrilled crowds last weekend – they are also the qualities that helped Klumb, Perroud, Schwemin and Zorza pull off the event.


The NMU crew seemed relatively unfazed, despite close scrutiny from the ISU and the heated pace at which they had to complete the work. In what could have been a real pressure-cooker environment, they remained cool as … what else? Ice.


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Updated: April 23, 2004