Driving on the world stage

Jeff Sampson is a lucky guy.

While thousands of hockey fans scramble at the last minute, trying to find Olympic hockey tickets, paying hundreds and even thousands of dollars on eBay, Sampson has his seat booked.

It could be argued that his is the best seat in the house as he drives the Zamboni between periods.

“The guy who oversees the ice for the National Hockey League is Dan Craig, and he’s from the same home town (Three Hills, Alberta) that I am,” Sampson explained. “I originally sent an e-mail two years ago asking if he had any openings for the Winter Classic in Chicago. He said no, but he asked if I was interested in the Olympics.”

It seemed like a passing suggestion at the time, maybe serious but probably not.

But Craig phoned back a couple months later and made the job offer official. Sampson will now be part of a 10-man crew, with five stationed at GM Place and the other five at the University of British Columbia.

“This will be the second Olympics I’ve experienced in person, and I’m excited to do it again,” Sampson said. “In 1988, I was working for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, and I did a lot of work for the opening and closing ceremonies at McMahon Stadium.”

Sampson was 20 years old at the time, and remembers rolling a red carpet out for Rick Hansen.

“I touched the torch and got all sorts of pictures,” he said. “But I was young then, and I didn’t think much of it. This will be a different experience, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate it more.”

Sampson will be working a pair of round-robin mens’ hockey games, starting with the U-S and Slovakia.

The ultimate will be working the gold-medal game.

“I made sure I got that one,” he laughed.

Other than pictures, Sampson has little to remember the Calgary Olympics by. He kicks himself now for his decision to take money over a nifty bit of memorabilia.

Eighty-eight rings were made, and offered to volunteers at those Games. The choice was between a ring or some bonus money, and Sampson opted for the cash.

But even without tangible souvenirs, Sampson can still close his eyes and picture the energy and excitement that surrounded those Olympics. He hopes Vancouver will duplicate that feeling for him.

“There were parties and tents every night and I met a lot of people,” he said. “I saw Eddie the Eagle and Elizabeth Manley. I went all over the place, and thinking back now, it was pretty cool. I’m looking forward to this experience.”

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