Zamboni team fills, chills, thrills at Goggin
written by Margo Kissell, university news and communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Before sunrise, the Zambonis are already gliding around the two rinks at Goggin Ice Center "to wake up the ice," as Jon Elliott puts it.
Jon Elliott (rear) and Matt Hartkopf (foreground) drive the Zambonis during last Saturday's men's hockey game in Steve Cady Arena at the Goggin Ice Center (photo by Scott Kissell).
"Most days we're open and on the ice at 6:45 a.m., and we're not done until after midnight," said Elliott (Miami '00, MS '13), assistant director for building operations at Goggin.
The Miami University Zamboni crew includes full-time senior maintenance/repair specialists Jeff Carey, Larry Gills, Steve Mahlerwien and Jon Oberschlake and part-timer Matt Williamson. They usually drive the Zambonis. Elliott and Matt Hartkopf, manager of facility operations and events, fill in as needed.
The crew keeps the two NHL-size sheets — 200 feet by 85 feet — in good condition for everyone using them, including the men's hockey team, the women's synchronized skating teams, club hockey teams, broomball leagues and intramural teams.
But that's not all.
Talawanda High School's hockey team, along with other youth hockey and figure skating teams, also use the ice, as well as students taking kinesiology and health classes and members of the community striving to maintain their balance during group lessons or public skating events.
The Zambonis are out there a lot — 22 times on a recent Monday, for instance — and that can climb to as many as 25 to 30 times on the weekend, Elliott said.
The goal is to resurface the ice to enhance the experience of game play or skating.
The Zamboni crew (photo courtesy Kevin Ackley)
"When it gets really rutted up, it's harder to skate on," he said. "It's slower and in hockey, the puck doesn't move as well."
These Zambonis — named for Frank Zamboni, the man who invented the world's first self-propelled ice resurfacing machine — run on propane. They smooth out all those grooves and holes and collect the chips of ice and snow that skaters leave behind.
"The Zamboni picks up all that snow, then shaves about 1/32 of an inch off the surface," Elliott said. "It fills in those grooves and replaces the 1/32 of an inch that you shaved off with a fresh coat of water," which freezes in a matter of minutes.
When they're not working on the ice, the crew takes care of other building maintenance, such as plumbing or electrical work. They also sharpen skates.
"Most people say, 'What do you do when there's no hockey game?' A whole lot," Elliott said.
Goggin is home to one of the largest intramural ice programs in the country (photo of the 2013 National Broomball Championships by Scott Kissell).
When they're not behind the wheel of a Zamboni, they maintain the ice in other ways.
"The corners will get high or snow builds up on the yellow kick plate," Elliott said, noting that's when they bring in an edger, which resembles a push lawnmower for ice.
If ice builds up around the dasher boards, they knock it off with a chipper.
During the men's hockey games, both Zambonis work together on the ice to speed up the process.
The drivers are focusing on the task at hand but also soaking in the atmosphere. Elliott said they usually have the most fun when the fans are full of energy.
"When the students are going crazy, it’s usually the best," he said. "When the stands are packed and they're ready for the game, sometimes they'll beat on the glass when you go around."
Adding to the fun, each Zamboni gives rides to three lucky fans chosen through a text-to-win contest or randomly from the crowd. One rides before the game and the others climb aboard after the first and second periods.
"It's just really for the fan experience to take them on the ice," said Kevin Ackley, senior director of Goggin Ice Arena. "It's neat to see them wave to their friends."