American ice masters will keep rinks frosty for Olympic hockey

Don Moffatt covered in white paint and wearing sunglasses and plastic cape (© Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty Images)
Don Moffatt, speckled with paint he used to prepare a rink, is the chief ice technician for ice hockey at the Pyeongchang Winter Games. (© Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty Images)

While millions of fans will be focused on the competitive skating at rinks around Pyeongchang, South Korea, during the 2018 Winter Olympics, Americans Don Moffatt and Brandon Klement will be busy watching the ice itself.

As the chief ice technician for hockey, Moffatt has shuttled to South Korea several times over the past two years to develop the rinks at Gangneung Hockey Centre and Kwandong Hockey Centre for the men’s and women’s competitions. Moffatt and his assistant Klement have been working with the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee to make sure the ice is ready.

There will be both men’s and women’s hockey tournaments with games nearly every day of the Games, culminating in the men’s final match, the last major event on the closing day.

People skating on ice rink in large arena (© Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
The Kwandong Hockey Centre in Gangneung, South Korea, is one venue for ice hockey games at the Winter Olympics. (© Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

To boost interest in the sport, South Korea rolled out a four-year, $20 million investment plan as soon as Pyeongchang was selected to host the Winter Games seven years ago. It paid off. The number of youth hockey players in the country increased from 879 to over 2,000, and the men’s national team jumped from No. 31 to No. 18 in a world ranking.

With a growing fan base and a pipeline of talented skaters established, South Korea’s committee asked Moffatt to create top-notch facilities.

Cool credentials

Both Moffatt and Klement have spent their lives on ice. Each grew up playing hockey in the Great Lakes region, then took up ice maintenance as adults to stay near the game. They worked for the U.S. Ice Rink Association, traveling across the country teaching rink managers how to perfect their ice.

Working at the top levels of the sport is not new to them. Moffatt, who was on the “ice crew” at the Winter Games in Turin in 2006 and again in Vancouver in 2010, has also taken care of facilities for the National Hockey League.

He enjoys helping the elite competitors. “We’ve been working crazy hours, crazy days,” Moffatt said. “Once the Games start, the days are still just as long, but that’s the fun part for us, that’s the payoff.”

Two men using equipment to spray ice in ice rink (© Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty Images)
Don Moffatt, using specialized equipment, paints the ice white for a National Hockey League game in Pittsburgh. (© Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty Images)

Moffatt and Klement paint a layer of white paint plus standard rink boundaries and markings between layers of ice. Then, during games, they constantly monitor temperatures inside the hockey centers to maintain the ice’s integrity. The ice needs to be very dense to withstand the abuse of a hockey game, and weather conditions and crowd size can make it too soft. They employ a cooling agent running through pipes at the rink’s base to adjust the ice to the perfect temperature.

As their work has intensified recently, the ice experts are looking forward to the payoff time, when the Games begin.

“It’s even more fun to watch, when Team Korea will play, the fans that will come in and all rally around to support their own team,” Klement says.