Tanner Baker

Ice Box rink manager Tanner Baker (left) waves with a fan ready to ride the Zamboni during intermission earlier this season. Baker will be an ice technician at the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

BRANDON ANDERSON, Courtesy

To go to the Olympics is almost every athlete's dream.

Lincoln Stars rink manager Tanner Baker is not an athlete, but he was still called upon to help at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Baker will help install and maintain the ice used for the figure skating and short-track speed skating events as an ice technician.

“It's a huge honor,” Baker said. “Especially to be from Lincoln, Nebraska, where we are not really known for our ice sports, especially figure skating and speedskating.

“Everyone wants to go to the next level, whether it is college, NHL or whatever. The Olympics is the pinnacle of any ice technician's career. To get the chance to go is quite an honor.”

The opportunity to help with the Winter Olympics almost went by the wayside after Corey Portner, the person who hired an eight-man crew, including Baker, resigned last month. Baker had been planning to go for almost a year.

Fortunately for Baker, with such a short window, the International Olympic Committee still wanted the group to come.

“We thought our opportunity was lost,” Baker said. “The Olympic Committee came to us and asked if we would still be interested in going, and everyone from the eight-person crew that (Portner) had put together committed to going.”

After Baker realized he was going, life became a rush to get things done. He'll leave Tuesday and won't return to Lincoln until March 1, a six-week span of leaving behind the Ice Box, his crew and his family. The Winter Games are Feb. 9-25.

One thing that allowed Baker to attend the Olympics is the trust in his Stars crew.

“Without the crew I have in place, I wouldn't be able to take this opportunity,” Baker said. “My job here at the Ice Box always comes first, and unfortunately, my girlfriend doesn't appreciate it all the time, but being a rink manager you are married to the facility and the equipment even if you don't always care to be.

“The crew I have here are all tremendous; bright individuals that cannot only maintain, but see the details and make sure we are providing the best quality product.”

The initial contract of going to the Olympics also changed, after a back-and-forth affair to make everything work in Baker's best interest.

“Thankfully we did, with all the weather that has hit us, it has been very difficult here at the Ice Box.”

Those difficulties came into full effect last week, with the heat breaking down at the Ice Box during some of Lincoln's coldest days this winter.

“It really hadn't sunk in this week until with the equipment breaking down and making sure everything is ready to roll,” Baker said about going to the Olympics. “Then taking care of all my personal matters; plans for family and the kids, the girlfriend and making sure everyone is taken care of.”

Before Baker leaves, he will get to see one of his favorite games of the season, when the Stars take on the Omaha Lancers at the Ice Box.

Lincoln and Omaha play a home-and-home series this weekend, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Ice Box.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or tgray@journalstar.com.

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