By Mario Bartel
Steve Ray is going to have a bird's eye view of the Olympic hockey tournament. And he didn't have to win the ticket lottery or mortgage his house to pay scalpers to get his coveted seat.
Ray, a longtime Coquitlam resident, will be taking vacation time from his job as the manager of web strategy at Simon Fraser University to work as a volunteer off-ice official at the 2010 Winter Games.
From his perch high above the ice at Canada Hockey Place and Thunderbird Arena, he'll be peering through opera glasses to spot each player from his assigned team as they jump onto the ice or return to the bench while his partner logs the jersey numbers he calls out into a computer to track their ice time. The information is then fed into the On Venue Results that track all the games' statistics, which are distributed in real time to broadcasters and other media, and team officials.
It's not the gig he expected when he signed up in the first call for volunteers almost a year ago. With his experience as a photojournalist (including working at The Tri-City News) and web developer, he expected to be given a job in communications or media relations. But when he was tapped for the hockey tournament, Ray, who used to coach minor hockey, says he was thrilled.
"I had to pick my jaw off the floor."
His excitement is tempered, however, by the enormity of the task. For at least 17 games in the men's and women's hockey tournaments, he'll have to keep his eyes glued to the area immediately around the bench of the team he's assigned to watch (a second team of officials will log the other team). And while the computer operator can pause his program to allow the spotter to catch up, Ray can't afford to glance down towards the excitement around the net and possibly lose his concentration.
"It sounds easy," says Ray, "but when they're doing changes on the fly, it can get a little stressful."
As Ray found out in a warm-up women's tournament he worked last summer for training, spotting numbers on hockey jerseys isn't always easy, either. Sometimes, the design makes it hard to distinguish between a 3 and an 8. Sometimes, the sleeves bunch up and obscure the numbers on players' arms. Sometimes, a player never turns his back the spotter's way during a shift.
That's why Ray likes it when teams put numbers on the front of their jerseys as well as the back or affix big numbers on the back of players' helmets. And for the women's games, he'll make note during the pre-game warm-up of which players have ponytails dangling from beneath their helmets or which ones might wear uniquely coloured skates.
But even after watching the world's best hockey players for two weeks, Ray says he doesn't expect it will make him any better at picking them in his next NHL hockey pool.