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Lifelong dream put on ice at B.C. Place stadium

Fuller Lake Arena icemaker Kevin Wheeler of Chemainus was part of the 18-man NHL ice crew that turned B.C. Place Stadium into a hockey rink for the NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday, March 2. - courtesy Kevin Wheeler
Fuller Lake Arena icemaker Kevin Wheeler of Chemainus was part of the 18-man NHL ice crew that turned B.C. Place Stadium into a hockey rink for the NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday, March 2.
— image credit: courtesy Kevin Wheeler

It’s always been Kevin Wheeler’s dream to make ice for the NHL.

The Fuller Lake Arena icemaker fulfilled that dream March 2 in one of the biggest games of the year when he worked as part of the ice crew for the NHL Heritage Classic in Vancouver.

The Ottawa Senators came from behind to beat the Canucks 4-2 in front of more than 54,000 fans at B.C. Place Stadium.

Wheeler, who lives in Chemainus, was part of the crew that built the ice leading up to the game, kept the ice surface clean during the game and took it down afterward.

This amazing opportunity came after he received a call in November from a friend from the NHL with whom he had volunteered during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“I was proud and honoured they would consider getting me to do it and join the team,” he said.

Wheeler has been working for the Municipality of North Cowichan for almost eight years, and has been an icemaker for 13. In 2010, he volunteered in the same role for Vancouver Winter Olympic hockey games.

“This is what I do; it’s what my dad used to do,” he said. “I’d go help my dad from the time I was a kid. I’d go and help him clean up; he’d pay me with hockey cards, and I’d clean the bleachers. I’d go and sweep the boards before they put the brooms on Zambonis, and goal judge and time keep.

“It’s really been a lifelong dream to work with the NHL.”

Wheeler started work Feb. 24, joining the NHL ice crew of 18, who came from across Canada. Leading up to the game, he worked 13-hour night shifts building the rink, after another crew built the boards, glass and logos during the day.

“It was very enjoyable,” he said. “It was very hard, probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, but it was knowing I was building an ice rink for an NHL game at B.C. Place. And also knowing there was a game on Sunday and you had to get it done; you enjoy yourself, but it’s also hard work. The crew was really good; we bonded really quickly.”

During the game, Wheeler was part of the pit crew. He made sure the ice resurfacers were topped with water and fuel and were rinsed and ready to go for intermission.

As well, he would help shovel the ice surface and his end, and clean it at the gate.

“That was great,” said Wheeler. “I was on the benches and thinking ‘wow, I’m here working with the NHL ice crew’ and everything was going off really well. I think the big thing is we really were a team.”

“It’s neat learning tips and tricks from other people and making new friendships with people who do the same thing as I do,” he said. “We obviously all care about the ice and giving a good product and player safety. The result of the game was really irrelevant to me; I wanted it to be a good game and a good atmosphere for the fans.

“I think everyone had a good time, never mind the score.”

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