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Alumnus' Ice Expertise Leads to Opportunity as Zamboni Driver at Olympic Hockey Venue

Ferris State University
PHOTO CAPTIONS: Adam Stirn, a Big Rapids native and Ferris State University Criminal Justice alumnus, stands before the ice surface at the Gangneung Hockey Centre in South Korea. Stirn is among eight Zamboni operators with National Hockey League ice-making expertise invited to support the facilities during the 2018 Winter Olympics based in Pyeongchang.

In what he described as a “perfect storm” of circumstances, Ferris State University alumnus and Big Rapids native Adam Stirn is spending his final Ferris State Universityweek in Gangneung, South Korea operating a Zamboni as part of a team of six ice technicians selected to work at the hockey venue for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“I was hired for hockey. The other Olympic sports and competitions have different ice requirements, and each sport has technicians who are experts in producing the proper surface,” Stirn said. “I have picked up many tips and techniques from my boss, Don Moffatt, and the other drivers. We are really a team over here. I am glad I have been able to contribute some concepts when we get together to discuss operations after each day’s work.”

Stirn said his opportunity to join the field of 16 technicians preparing the ice for all Olympic sports was impacted by the National Hockey League’s decision to continue its regular season and retain its players, while the Pyeongchang games were being held. He added that Chad Billins, an All-American for Ferris’ 2011-12 “Frozen Four” squad, was pleased to claim a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, a matter they discussed at the Hockey Centre.

“My credentials give me full access to Gangneung so it was great to seek Chad out as it has been five or six years since the last time we had talked,” Stirn said. “We both agreed we were really thankful for the way things had worked out, and to have this opportunity.”

Billins, who has 10 games of NHL experience, has also played in the American Hockey League and in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League. He is currently a member of Linkopings HC, in the Swedish Hockey League, where players were released to compete in the Olympics while the SHL season continues.

Stirn earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice, from Ferris, in 2007, and a Master of Science, in CJ, in 2009. He began his pursuits in ice making as a student employee at the Ewigleben Ice Arena and went to work at the Resch Center Complex, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, after graduating from Ferris. In 2014, he became lead ice maker for the University of Minnesota which has 3M Arena at Mariucci, in Minneapolis, for their men’s hockey team and Ridder Arena, a smaller venue for the Gophers’ women’s team, in the same vicinity.

“I also work part-time for the Minnesota Wild, at the Xcel Energy Center,” Stirn said. “That put me on the Zamboni when the Wild hosted the NHL Winter Classic, at TCF Bank Stadium, Feb. 21, 2016. It was a unique experience to do my job in front of a crowd of 70,000 fans. I work with Travis Larson, who is ice operations manager and event manager for the Wild. He was a big factor in my receiving this Olympic opportunity.”

The Gangneung Hockey Centre has an extended daily schedule of team practices and games during the final week of the Winter Olympics, which continues to the men’s Gold Medal game on Sunday, Feb. 25. Stirn said he will fly back the next day knowing there will be no letup at the University of Minnesota.

“The Big Ten Tournament will begin that first weekend of March with a good possibility that Minnesota will host a best-of-three series,” Stirn said. “Our Ridder Arena will host the WCHA Final Faceoff during that same time as well as the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four, on March 16 and 18.”

While Stirn will be busy keeping the ice in top condition for those events, he expects there will be some time to reflect on his experiences in South Korea supporting the Olympics through his service in Pyeongchang.

“It has been a massive learning experience and an achievement being here, kind of the fulfillment of a pipe dream,” Stirn said. “When you consider the Olympics, it doesn’t get any bigger than that. I am so thankful to be having this experience knowing my involvement with the NHL and their decision on these games had factored into what came my way. Being on the glass Thursday, Feb. 22 for the U.S. Women's gold medal win over Canada may be my ultimate professional experience. Right now, I would be open to serving again, in Beijing in 2022, but who can say what will come before then.”

Stirn’s stepfather, Greg Key, retired several years ago as director of Ferris’ School of Automotive and Heavy Equipment. His mother, Marie Mondrella Key, is a Big Rapids native who earned her Associate of Applied Science degree from the university’s College of Business, in 1974, and retired after a career as a legal assistant having worked in the office of Ferris alumnus Mark Viel.