Professional ice makers take over Little Current arena

The Iceman, veteran championship ice maker Tom Leonard of Sudbury, oversees the team from his company, Maple Ice, in flooding the ice sheets for this weekend’s Travelers Northern Ontario Men’s Curling Championships. photo by Michael Erskine

Four ‘perfect’ curling sheets ready for Travelers Northern Ontario Men’s Curling Championship

LITTLE CURRENT—Sudbury native Tom Leonard knows his ice, especially when it comes to that specialized and rarified pebbled version that graces the sheets across which the world’s curling greats hurl their stones in search of glory. As a former competitive curler himself, the Iceman has been installing competitive sheets of ice since 1993.

Under the Maple Ice brand of Mr. Leonard’s company, he and his team have spent the last 40 hours preparing the ice surface of the Little Current arena, more used to hockey and figure skates, into a series of competitive sheets fit for champions.

“My first professional gig was in 1995 for the Men’s Provincials,” he recalled when chatting with The Expositor while overseeing the installation of the sheets for the Travelers Northern Ontario Men’s Curling Championship taking place February 16 to 18. “I was just in Huntsville (for the Men’s 2018 Tankard).” But the crème de la crème has to be when he was tagged to supply the ice for the Brier in Newfoundland, although the North Bay Ladies’ World championships will be a pretty feather in his cap as well.

Mr. Leonard and his three-man team arrived in Little Current on Saturday evening and got right to work. “It takes about 36 to 40 hours to completion,” he said on Monday evening. “I am just about ready for a nap about now.” He will be onsite for “90 percent of the time.”

“We have a couple of floods to do yet,” he explained on Monday, then it is down to the fine art of scrapping and pebbling.

Strangely, cold is a bigger challenge to the ice maker than heat. “We want heat, actually,” he said. “The ideal is around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.” So fans need not fear, the radiant heat in the stands will be going strong.

Along with his three-man professional team, the committee that brought the Traveler’s Northern Ontario Men’s Championship to the Island has arranged a small army of local volunteers who will be assisting in maintaining the curling sheets in tip top shape throughout the weekend.

Mr. Leonard said that the ice plant in the arena has “plenty of horsepower” to do the job and that he was confident. “The bigger challenges are usually air temperature and humidity,” he said. As for his prediction on whether the ice will be slow or fast during this competition, the ice maker did not hesitate for a second. “It will be fast,” he said.

Mr. Leonard made one more prediction for the ice on the weekend. “This will be the best ice they will play on all week,” he laughed.