ST. JOHN'S — Jamie Bourassa distinctly remembers the first time he pebbled a curling rink.
"I was 17. Fort Macleod [Alberta]. I managed a curling club right out of high school."
Four decades later, the 57-year-old has taken his ice-making mastery around the globe, creating the playing surfaces for the world's most important bonspiels.
For his latest job, Bourassa was tasked with turning the Mile One Centre in downtown St. John's, normally an arena for the hometown American Hockey League team, into four ideal curling sheets for the Brier. And he didn't have a lot of time to do it — a crew of about 20 people worked around the clock for days.
"We got the building on the Sunday morning [before qualifying began on Friday]. We started laying the foundation by that afternoon and we were done flooding the ice by Wednesday," Bourassa says.
"You give 'er and get 'er done and hopefully it gets good from there."
The process hit a bit of a snag this time. Two weeks ago, Bourassa slipped on some snow-covered ice — outdoors, not his own — and broke his ankle.
"The iceman falleth," he laughs.
But nothing is stopping Bourassa from getting the job done as he hobbles around on one foot, crutches in both hands.
"This is a first and I don't want to do it again either," he says.
Sleepless in St. John's
For the course of nine days during the Brier, Bourassa gets around five hours of sleep a night if he's lucky. He's always on call. Early mornings. Late nights. Obsessed with making sure the ice is pristine.
"It's my passion," he says. "It's important to make sure the players can make their shots, and if they do that I've done my job."
Making curling ice in a hockey arena is a tall task and not for everyone. It took a monumental effort by Bourassa and his crew just to get their traveling road show of equipment out to Newfoundland for the Brier.
Even after the ice is made, the slightest change in weather outside, temperature inside, or unforeseen issues can throw everything into chaos.
"I don't know if I've been lucky or blessed, but I've never had any life-altering issues," says Bourassa. "Knock on wood, because it can change in a minute."
Like a chef with a secret recipe, Bourassa won't divulge the perfect temperature inside the arena this week to ensure ideal curling conditions. But he's keeping an eye on the weather, because what's happening outside can affect how the ice behaves indoors.
"I start following the forecast about a week or two before I come," he says. "I can know in my mind what I might have to look forward to. It's been snowing and our humidity has changed about two per cent."
Despite the broken ankle, Bourassa can be seen hobbling around before every draw in St. John's, thoroughly interrogating the players before each game.
He strives for consistency with his ice — no big curl or "swing" — and wants to know what the players are seeing and feeling to ensure his surface is the best it can possibly be.
"The players are always appreciative. I do a lot of one-on-ones with them," he says. "I just don't ask the winners because they're usually always happy with the ice."