- Matt Stacy
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Londoner Art Johnston, the former chief operator at Budweiser Gardens, is heading to South Korea to drive an ice resurfacer at the Olympics.
The ice surface is bigger.
The Zambonis are battery-powered.
And there is zero chance of an NHL superstar scoring a golden goal that unleashes a wave of national pride.
But Londoner Art Johnston is pretty sure he will enjoy his second Olympic experience next month in South Korea as much as he did his first, eight years ago at Vancouver.
Just to be picked, it's humbling, the former Budweiser Gardens chief operator said. I'm going to a part of the world I will probably never get the chance to see again. There's just something about the Olympics. It's an awesome feeling being part of an event that big.
It's quite the honour.
Johnston will work as an ice resurfacer and operator during his 22-day stay in Pyeongchang. He is one of only eight North Americans tapped to help out during the men's and women's hockey competitions. This opportunity grew out of his Vancouver experience, where he toiled at Rogers Arena (rebranded as Canada Hockey Place during the Games) and served as ice maintenance supervisor for sledge hockey during the ensuing Paraylmpics.
Don Moffatt (the former NHL's facilities operations supervisor) was the assistant in Vancouver and now he's the head ice maker (in Korea), Johnston said. He got in touch with me in December 2016 while I was doing the Centennial Classic in Toronto (the Maple Leafs-Red Wings outdoor game at BMO Field) and asked if I would be interesting in coming over.
I said, 'Sure, why not?' I'm going to get to drive the Zamboni there and have fun doing it.
Johnston is currently a City of London employee based at the busy Nichols Arena three-pad.
The city's been great with me, he said.They're supporting me and I saved up the time to go overseas, working as much overtime as I can and carrying over vacation time to bank it for this kind of stuff.
There will be two hockey venues at the Games-the $90 million (U.S.) Gangneung Ice Arena, which is about the same size as the Bud. That will hold the men's competition and the medal round.
The women will play at the 6,000-seat Kwandong Hockey Centre, which has an ice surface four floors above the ground. It is located at a Catholic university and will be later converted into a multi-purpose gymnasium.
It's going to be a new experience for me, Johnston said. I worked a little at Western Fair in the past, but this is going to be 22 days on Olympic-sized ice. It's a change from the city of London rinks and the NHL-sized ice from Vancouver. There will be a learning curve with the equipment. I haven’t been on those machines before.
While he's on site, he's interested to hear how fans embrace the hockey event back home.
I've talked to people here who will PVR the games so they can watch it on their time (instead of middle of the night), he said. I think, this year, with the NHL not going, this will put the focus more on women. It was awesome with the NHLers in it and they drew the crowds, but this will be good, too, and level out the playing field a bit.
I think there will be excitement.
There will be plenty in the Zamboni driver's seat, that's for sure.