The thermometer has plunged below zero on a sunny December morning, but on the soccer pitch at BMO Field in Toronto, verdant grass peeks from beneath a coating of snow, filling the air with a hint of springtime freshness that belies the fact that, in just 11 days, it will be covered with a giant outdoor ice rink. The whir of drills echoes off the stands as construction crews drive the arena boards into a plywood floor. Giant pans forming the base of the rink lie on the field, reflecting the glaring winter sun, and four giant jugs containing 330 gallons of glycol stand waiting to flood and freeze the floor.
At the centre of it all is Sheridan alumnus Garrett Mills, a 2006 Theatre Arts, Technical Production, graduate. As the production manager for BaAM Productions, a live events creative production company, he’s built countless projects like this over the years, everything from FIFA Women’s World Cup to the Fan Fest for Major League Baseball’s All Star Game. But the work never gets old.
“I’m part of some of the biggest experiences and spectacles around the world that are iconic moments in people’s lives.”
“How many people ever get to say that they’re building a professional hockey rink for the NHL Centennial classic,’” he says. “I’m part of some of the biggest experiences and spectacles around the world that are iconic moments in people’s lives. I think that’s the best part of what we get to do.”
Mills’ days begin at 6 a.m at his desk inside a construction trailer at field’s edge. He plans schedules and oversees all the laborers building the rink and installing the giant number 100 around it to celebrate a century of NHL hockey. It’s a grueling schedule, but he credits the intense course load in the Technical Production program at Sheridan with getting him used to long days, and giving him extensive knowledge in fields ranging from lighting and carpentry to audio/visual production. He uses plenty of those skills to trouble shoot on the job. When you’re planning an outdoor event, most of those troubles come from the weather; even snow can mess up a winter sport. On the first day of work at BMO Field, a snowstorm dumped four inches on the field and had to be cleared so the ground was perfectly level before installing the structure under the ice so the rink stays flat. In his six years with BaAM, Mills has seen just about everything Mother Nature has to offer. In 2015, he worked on a team setting up an event for fans at the Major League Baseball game in Cincinnati. The event was set to go off when meteorologists warned of severe wind. Then tornado warning sirens went off, and Mills watched as gusts dumped tools from a high-rise development onto cars below, and lifted a tractor trailer off the street. “We got to witness the powers of Mother Nature and what they can do to an event,” he recalls.
Mills says anyone in live event production needs to be ready for anything. He sets out for California or Las Vegas, then back to frigid cities like Calgary for weeks at a time, so he always carries two hockey bags full of gear ranging from flip-flops to parkas because the show must go on. “You have to be able to adapt, you have to have the mentality that you’re going to get through it … there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. When you get down to show day and you look around the stadium and you see all the fans coming in, you catch that one kid who’s having the time of their life – that makes it all worth it.”