MINNEAPOLIS — Rick Ragan is living the dream – 14 hours ahead of us in Beijing.
“The future,” Ragan said on a Zoom call from the 2022 Winter Olympics this week, “is fantastic!”
Ragan, a native of Minnesota who recently moved to Florida, is one of two chief icemakers at Wukesong Arena, which is primarily hosting the women’s hockey competition. Even with the around-the-clock demands, it’s a prestigious job, one that Ragan said he landed “kind of by luck and who you know.”
A lifelong hockey player in the State of Hockey, Ragan joined the icemaking business about 15 years ago. After learning his craft in Delano, he forged connections with the Minnesota Ice Arena Manager’s Association and a similar group at the national level, which then led him to the opportunity in Beijing.
Ragan is certainly leaving his Minnesota-made mark on the Winter Olympics, logging 18-hour days and operating on very little sleep.
“It takes me a couple of hours to wind down,” Ragan said, “just from being all excited from the day.”
Of course, a lot of the work happened before the athletes even arrived.
Ragan said it took about a week to make both the competition rink and practice rink at Wukesong Arena.
“We start with a dry floor, just concrete on the floor, and slowly, slowly build really thin layers of ice. We paint the ice white, a few more layers of paint, paint all the hockey markings, a few more layers of paint… then put all the logos in and just build from there,” Ragan said. “We maintain it every day with the Zamboni, other special equipment, just to make sure it stays the same thickness and same temperatures.”
On a high-pressure stage like the Olympics, precise measurements are also extremely important, and there’s not much room for error. While speedskaters prefer harder ice and figure skaters like it to be softer, Ragan said hockey players want it right about in the middle.
So far, Ragan feels he’s passed the test, with the help of a stellar crew from China.
The women’s hockey teams from the United States and Canada have even complimented him on the quality of the ice, ahead of the quarterfinal rounds.
“And once I got that, I said, ‘I’m done! I can go home now,'” Ragan joked. “When the US and Canada say your ice is good, that’s all you need!”
Ragan, of course, isn’t anywhere near finished with the task in Beijing.
He’ll oversee the ice not only through the Olympics, but also the Paralympics, until he flies home to the United States in mid-March.