Zed is for Zamboni

Jesse Juilfs, a rink attendant and Zamboni driver, sits on the Zamboni at centre ice at the SAIT Arena. Juilfs is one of 13 rink attendants at SAIT, and one of three full time employees. He’s worked at SAIT for five years. ASHLI BARRETT PHOTO

Few sports can boast that breaks between periods of play can be as much of a spectacle as the game itself. Fewer still can say the spectacle is caused by a bulky, water-spewing machine whose steering has been described by car review magazines as “70s Cadillac.”

Hockey definitely doesn’t have a flashy car, but the brand that has become synonymous with ice-resurfacing machines, the Zamboni, is just as well known.

“Kids are always waving—it always starts with kids and I think they just like the big piece of machinery,” said Jesse Juilfs, one of the SAIT Arena’s 13 rink attendants, regarding the adoration for the Zamboni.

“As you grow up you just go ‘hey I could do this,’ or ‘this might be an option for me’ and then the people who don’t get into it still love seeing the Zamboni.

“It’s one of those things that’s uniquely Canadian—the love for the Zamboni driver.”

People don’t just enjoy watching the iconic machine do laps around the ice—they want to test-drive it just like they would a Cadillac.

“We’re asked two to three times a week: ‘Can I see it? Can I hop on, can I drive it?’ And we just say ‘yeah we can show you, you can sit,” Juilfs said, adding that the arena staff doesn’t actually let anyone drive the machine.

With equipment that costs over $100,000, it should come as no surprise. However, training to drive the ice-resurfacer is done on the job.

“I was out on the machine practicing my very first day. It can be intimidating—it’s a big piece of equipment. Every time you go out someone will give you a little tip, a little pointer.

“I’ve been doing it for five years and I’m still learning,” explained Juilfs.

According to him, one of the biggest challenges of driving the Zamboni is being aware of how much ice is being taken off.

“When the Zamboni goes down you’re scraping it with an incredibly sharp blade and if you’re taking too much you can take off your lines or mess up your logos on the ice during games.

“There’s newer machines that have auto-levelling but ours is all manual so it’s up to the operator.”

As cool as driving the Zamboni might seem, though, there are other responsibilities the drivers have to take care of.

“We do a lot of ice maintenance every day. The corners and edges [of the ice] have to be tight so the pucks don’t bounce funny when they hit. Without that, the pucks are flying everywhere,” Juilfs said.

“There’s always maintenance on the Zamboni to do. The compressor room has to be checked every day, sometimes two times a day.”

Cleaning the locker rooms, as well as the glass around the ice surface are other duties performed by the rink attendants. Removing puck marks on just the glass at the ends of the rink can take up to an hour alone.

Still, that likely won’t stop people from putting “driving a Zamboni” on their bucket lists, or coming up to the rink attendants like Juilfs and asking to go for a 14-kilometre-per-hour spin.

“It’s just sort of an interesting thing to see done and people like it.”

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