The Loonie That Turned to Gold

The Loonie That Turned to Gold

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

The Loonie That Turned to Gold

“Should we tell him about the Loonie?” Trent Evans asked Dan Craig. Dan was head of the Green Team, the icemakers responsible for all the hockey rinks at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

“You know I can’t officially know anything about that Loonie,” replied Dan. He turned to me with a huge smile and unzipped his green Salt Lake parka to proudly display his Roots Team Canada T-shirt. As he turned and left, the twinkle in his eye was unmistakable. “I have to check on the temperature of the ice,” he announced, evading my questioning eyes. Now I’m no investigative reporter, but something was clearly up.

I was working at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, as a TV features reporter for CBC Sports. My assignment was to profile Olympians by actually trying their sport for a day—the kind of opportunity television people dream of. It allowed me to spend time with Canada’s best and brightest as they prepared for their events. From skating with Catriona Le May Doan to playing goal with the women’s hockey team, from rocketing headfirst downhill at breakneck speed (hopefully not literally) with the Skeleton Team to being a brakeman with the bobsled team, I was amazed as I played with Canada’s best. But there’s more to an Olympic performance than the athletes. There are so many exceptional people who make things work behind the scenes, and I got to meet a few of them as well.

Back when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers were winning all those Stanley Cups, they were known as the fastest team with the fastest ice. The crew making that ice was run by Dan Craig. Dan rose up the ranks to eventually oversee ice-making operations for the entire NHL. Taking over for him in Edmonton was the rising star of ice-makers, Trent Evans. Just like the athletes who work and train for years hoping to qualify for the Olympics, Dan, Trent and their team had become the icemakers to call if you needed the best. Here in Salt Lake, because of their green jackets, they were known as the “Green Team,” and this would be their Olympics.

It was my day with the Green Team. We had started our “typical day in the life of an ice-maker” early that morning. With fifty-five games and even more practices in four different arenas, all needing perfect ice, the Green Team regularly put in sixteen-hour days during these games. It was hard work, but they had a lot of fun, too. While they were teaching me to drive a Zamboni, I was so busy watching all the dials and levers and gauges I forgot about the driving. Fortunately, one of them was holding a sign at the end boards that read “TURN.” After I parked the Zamboni, the guys gathered around to demonstrate how to tell if we’d done a good job. “Eat some of the snow out of the Zamboni,” they told me. “It should taste clean and melt in your mouth.” I dutifully obeyed, searching for the right taste and texture. When I saw them all laughing so hard they had to hold each other up, I realized I’d been had.

After a busy morning, we had to put the finishing touches on the E Centre, the gold medal hockey arena. We arrived at the rink just as rehearsals for the gold medal presentation ceremony were finishing. To our chagrin, the organizers were practicing as if the USA had won the gold. Maybe that’s what prompted Trent to tell me about the Loonie. We were standing behind the Zamboni, as the strains of the “Star-Spangled Banner” died out, when he began.

The first thing ice-makers do before making any ice, Trent told me, is to mark out the surface of the rink, starting at the centre. That marker becomes the face-off circle, and everything else is measured from there. Usually they just painted a dot, but there was no paint handy, so Trent reached into his pocket, came up with a dime, and put it down to mark the exact centre. Then they began the flood. But it was actually the next day when Trent had his real flash of inspiration.

It was a slightly beat-up 1987 Loonie, but it was all Trent had left in his pocket. He put it down on top of the dime and finished flooding the ice. As he drove the Zamboni late into the night, putting layer upon layer of ice over it, he hoped the Loonie would bring good luck to the Canadian hockey teams. He also knew that if anyone were to find out, he would not only have to remove it, he would probably be on thin ice with the Olympic organizing committee.

A couple of days later the rink was nearly done when Trent’s worst fears were realized. The Loonie had been spotted by one of the Americans on the crew, who promptly reported it. Trent was ordered to change the marker. His good-luck talisman was finished.

As Trent began to dig out the coin, he was upset, knowing the Canadian hockey teams could use all the good luck they could get. The women’s team had lost eight games in a row to the powerhouse Americans in pre-Olympic tournaments. The men’s team hadn’t won the gold medal since 1952. In that moment, Trent made a decision that seemed small at the time, but would change his life forever. He left the coin where it was and covered it up with a splotch of yellow paint.

“Now,” explained Trent, “came the really hard part, keeping it a secret.” All the Green Team knew because, well, they were in on it. The two Canadian hockey teams knew as well. “And now,” he said looking at me intently, “so do you.”

The games were about to start, and the Green Team agreed to let the CBC tell Canada about the Loonie under the ice, as long as we waited until just before the final game. So, as the games got rolling, as Jamie Salé and David Pelletier skated a gold medal performance and were awarded silver, then later gold, as Catriona dominated on the longtrack in speed skating, the Loonie story sat locked in a producer’s desk at the CBC. But every day was agonizing for Canada’s icemakers as more and more attention was directed towards centre ice at the hockey arena.

The women’s hockey tournament really got going with country after country being eliminated until the final confrontation— Canada versus the United States. The Loonie remained buried under the ice, but the secret was slowly beginning to surface. After playing shorthanded for most of the game, the Canadian underdogs won 3–2. In the exuberance of the moment, members of the Canadian Women’s Gold Medal team fell to their knees and kissed centre ice to thank the lucky Loonie.

Trent panicked, thinking for sure the jig was up. There were still three days to go before the men’s final. But somehow, the secret held. The entire country watched as the Canadian Men’s Team faltered, recovered, then won a place in the finals. Once again, it would be Team Canada against the undefeated Americans.

Was the Loonie really a good luck charm? One thing was clear, the miracles never ceased. The gold medal game was incredible! Wave after wave of the world’s best hockey players skated over centre ice in end-to-end, fast-paced hockey, just as it should be. While the world watched, Team Canada skated to a decisive 5–2 victory in front of a screaming crowd and a jubilant Wayne Gretzky. Later, captain Mario Lemieux, wrapped in a Canadian flag, called the triumphant team to centre ice for a picture that would go down in history.

While the team was celebrating in the locker room, Trent Evans ran onto the ice and dug out his coins. The dime he slipped into his pocket. The lucky Loonie he presented to the members of Team Canada 2002. Later that day, Gretzky held it up at a post-win news conference, proclaiming it to the world as a symbol of Canadian victory.

The last time I saw Trent was on the front page of the newspaper. He was touching that 1987 Loonie one more time. But this time it was in its new home at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The Loonie rests in a case and is prominently displayed between pictures of the two gold medal teams. There is a hole in the glass so visitors who are touched by the Loonie can reach through and touch it themselves. Trent looked so proud and more than a little surprised. I’m sure he had no idea his good luck charm would end up in the Hall of Fame. I also remember thinking how amazing it was that one person’s inspired moment could become a national symbol signifying the Olympic spirit.

It became the Loonie that turned to gold!

Peter Jordan
CBC, Winnipeg, Manitoba

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