WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (ABC4) – A Canadian loonie coin is worth exactly one Canadian dollar or, depending on the exchange rate, about 80 cents on the U.S. dollar. One particular loonie coin, however, kept behind glass at the Hockey Hall of Fame Museum in Toronto, became a priceless source of pride after a month’s stay in Utah.
Prior to the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Trent Evans and his team of icemakers from Edmonton were contracted to lay down the playing surface for the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments. After arriving in Utah, Evans began building the playing surface at the E Center in West Valley City, which would host most of the hockey action, including the medal games. Needing to identify the area at center ice where the officials could drop the puck for face-offs, Evans placed a Canadian dime he had in his pocket to mark the center of the rink at the then-E Center. After laying down the first layer, he covered the dime with a loonie, a coin with that moniker due to the image of a great loon on one side.
More layers of ice were added, along with the Olympic snowflake logo and a small orange dot, marking center ice. Evans however, choose not to remove the Canadian coin, imagining that it would serve as a piece of good luck for his native teams as they played in Salt Lake City, away from home.
As the players, coaches, and team staff arrived, including hockey’s most legendary figure, Wayne Gretzky, who was serving as the team’s executive director, Evans would whisper that he left a piece of Canada in the ice at the tournament’s marquee arena.
Remembering a passing encounter with Gretzky in which he mentioned his sneaky deed, Evans recalled The Great One telling him to keep it quiet, and that the word had already reached him.
“He said ‘Yeah I know about it,’ there were enough people around that it wasn’t a loud conversation, but it was like just ‘zip it, Trent, let’s keep the secret,’” Evans tells ABC4 with a laugh.
As the tournament progressed for both the women’s and men’s teams, the rumor of a loonie under center ice at the E Center spread throughout the Canadian hockey inner circles. Afraid that the story of the lucky loonie would leak out to the media or the host country’s Olympic committee, the secret was closely guarded. It became extremely important to Gretzky that the loonie remain in the ice as the Canadians advanced through the tournament.
The ploy was nearly ruined, however, after the women’s gold medal game when a few members of Team Canada began kissing center ice in celebration of their 3-2 victory over the United States. It was a stressful moment for both Gretzky and Evans.
“I was like ‘Get them away from the loonie because we want this to last to the men’s gold medal game as well,’” Evans recalls. “I didn’t know this at the time, but Gretzky was also on the phone, freaking out, telling them to get the girls away from center ice.”
Luckily, the loonie remained embedded in the ice three days later when the men played the United States for the top prize. Like the women before, the Canadian men prevailed over the U.S. to capture the title, the hockey-crazy country’s first men’s Olympic hockey gold since 1952. As the players swarmed the ice to celebrate their 5-2 victory over the Americans, Evans prepared to extract the now priceless loonie from the ice.
After the squad took a team picture at center ice, with their gold medals wrapped around their necks and the lucky coin just inches below them, Evans and another crewmember rushed onto the surface to free it from its frozen clutches.
Using a cup of hot water and a screwdriver, Evans retrieved the coin and handed it to Kevin Lowe, a longtime hockey executive and former player who was serving as an assistant to Gretzky during the Games. As the two walked towards the Canadian locker room where Gretzky and the players were basking in the moment, Lowe turned to the icemaker and insisted that Evans be the one to hand the coin to Gretzky. To Evans, that gesture was the highlight of his soon-to-be-legendary Olympic moment.
“He didn’t want it, he didn’t want to take the limelight of the loonie, so he gave it to me,” Evans says of Lowe’s insistence.
With the loonie, along with the original dime clanging around in his pocket, Evans continued to make his way towards Gretzky. As he moved through the bowels of the arena, he overheard some media members talking about a rumor circulating that the Canadians had planted a coin at center ice. Evans remembers giggling to himself as he heard the chatter, knowing he had the rumored loonie in his pocket.
After finishing a lap around the inside of the arena, Evans arrived outside the temporary locker room which was built for Team Canada. There, he presented the good luck charm to Gretzky and team captain Mario Lemieux. Smiling and soaking in the triumph of Canada’s first Olympic hockey gold medal in 50 years, Gretzky held the coin in the air and declared, “We’re going to put that in the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
Describing Evans’s work to put the coin in the ice to inquiring reporters and cameramen, Gretzky joked, “A little bit of luck, having a little bit of Canada in the ice.”
True to Gretzky’s word, the loonie was sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame and given a special display case ahead of Canada’s turn to host the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where the men’s hockey team also won the gold medal.
For the first year of the coin’s exhibit, the display featured a small hole, through which the viewer could reach in with a finger and touch the lucky loonie. That hole soon went away after the exhibit became so popular, the dollar piece started to show wear.
Still, the coin rests in a place of honor in the museum and in the hearts of hockey fans across Canada.
Almost two decades after his sneaky act of patriotism, Evans still works for Northland Events in Edmonton. As he approaches the end of his career, building ice sheets and other assignments for the Alberta-based company, he fondly remembers that incredible winter in Utah, where he played a small but memorable part in Canadian hockey lore.
“It’s amazing as I think about it how short life is because that’s, you know, almost 20 years now,” he tells ABC4. “Pretty cool.”