The Gimli Recreation Centre in Gimli, Manitoba is a sprawling complex that sits about a block and a half from the main drag. Walking through the doors in the middle of summer might give the impression that it’s an easy going place, and although icemaker Sandy Prise comes across as a relaxed, soft-spoken man, he is well aware that hockey season is approaching at breakneck speed.
“We start producing hockey ice midway through summer, and of course we have to do it from scratch,” says Sandy. The ice is made in preparation for the Reggie Leach Hockey School which begins the second week of August. “The school is for kids ages 5-16 and it’s great fun.”
Sandy, who was born in Turriff, Scotland and moved to Gimli at the age of five, started working with the Rural Municipality of Gimli in 1977. He has worked as both Recreation Coordinator and Program Manager, but he’s had an entirely new role for close to a decade.
“When the RM upgraded their heat pump system to an ammonia plant in 2003, I had the opportunity to become an ice tech. I was certified as a refrigeration technician in 2004.”
As Sandy began to learn the finer points of ice making, he soon became aware that people’s opinions on the ice often depend on if they prefer to shoot a puck or throw curling rocks.
“Hockey ice is not so bad, but curling ice is tougher because everyone’s a critic of curling ice.” Sandy says the key to making good curling ice is to keep it fast, clean and consistent. “If you throw a rock you want it to glide consistently all the way along.” Despite having a population under 6000 people, Gimli has become well known in curling circles thanks to another ice maker who lives in town.
“Living in our community, we have ‘the world’s best ice maker’ Hans Wuthrich. People have seen his ice on TV. He does help us out on occasion.” Sandy says one of the toughest part of the job is dealing with people, but over the years he has learned how to take it in stride.
Smooth Operator A Profile on Union Member Sandy Prise 2 Sandy Prise (L) and Adam Donahoe (R) stand next to the arena’s newly purchased Olympia ice resurfacer. “The hard part with curling ice is having to hear all the criticism. We’re trying to make the ice as good as we can. Fortunately, if you deal with that enough times after a while it rolls right off your back.” For Sandy, the best part of the job is on the hockey side, where he gets to witness children take to the ice for the first time.
“I supervise hockey for 6 year olds. Seeing the little squirts on the ice is probably the most satisfying part of the job. My kids went through the program too, and when they first try it out they have no dreams of being an NHL player, they’re just having fun.”
Working alongside Sandy for the past few years is Adam Donohoe, an ice tech trainee.
“I’ve learned a lot from working with Sandy, mainly how to deal with the public effectively,” says Adam. “That was something that I didn’t anticipate about working here, is how involved we are with the public on every level.”
Adam says his co-workers make it a great place to work. “Even when the job itself isn’t all that great, when you have good people around you, that’s all that really matters.”
Both men are members of Local 987, and say belonging to a union has definite advantages.
“It gives us the opportunity to have a little more clout,” says Sandy. “Before we were unionized, there were some issues with management. But now, being a union member, there’s better guidelines. When you have a collective agreement, it’s black and white.”
The Gimli Recreation Centre has hosted some prominent events over the years, including the 1998 Manitoba Winter Games, the 2003 TSN Skins Game, The 2008 Scotty’s Tournament of Hearts. When asked what his dream event would be, Sandy said he’d like to host curling’s best at the Safeway Championship.
“We’d love to do the Manitoba Men’s curling. That would be great. In curling it’s one of the biggest events next to the Brier.”