Did you know that the Zamboni was not used until 1955? In the early days of
hockey the ice was only resurfaced before a game began. Then at the
beginning of the 1940-41 season NHL officials made a rule change requiring
the ice to be resurfaced between periods. To do this, eight to ten men would
clean the surface with metal shovels or scrapers. Then barrels of hot water
were poured on the ice.
Resurfacing prior to Frank
Zamboni's invention was a challenge.
This photo shows the Detroit Red Wing's ice maintenance crew hard at work.
Photo courtesy Robert Wimmer
The reason we call the ice
resurfacing machine a Zamboni is because it was invented by Frank Zamboni.
He was a rink attendant at Paramount Studios in California. This rink was
used by figure skaters, including Sonja Henie who backed his idea. His first
de-icing machine made on a war-surplus jeep chassis was very bulky. It swept
and scraped the ice and flooded it with water. Just what the Zamboni does
today. It took Frank about seven years to develop his machine into the one
we are accustomed to seeing now.
The NHL first used this machine in 1955 in Montreal. It wasn’t long before
every NHL rink had one. Then before the 1994-95 season another rule change
required that all rinks have two ice resurfacers.
(from The Official Rules of Hockey by James Dupacey, 2001)
Although we call an ice
resurfacer a Zamboni, that is a brand name. Other companies make ice
resurfacers also. At the Tri City area we have two machines but only one is
Zambonis and Ice
A Zamboni is like a combine. It shaves the ice off and augers it up to the
tank in the front of the machine. Then it puts down a layer of water to wash
the skate marks on the ice. That water is picked up to be reused. Last, a
layer of hot water is spread on the ice to freeze into a new layer. This
water is spread by the towel that hangs down in the back of the Zamboni.
Zambonis can have three kinds
of power – diesel, electric or propane gas. Ours are both powered by propane
Sometimes, as in the
case of a shootout, a dry cut will be made in the center of the ice between
the two goals. If the whole sheet is to be dry cut, staff members go around
the outside edge of the ice with the edger to remove the ice built up
against the boards to make a flat surface. Then the Zamboni is run over the
ice to shave it but no water is put down to wash it. Finally, the ice
surface is flooded with the water to freeze but the water only spreads to
within 3-4 inches of the boards.
The thickness of the ice is checked about three times a week. It should be
about an inch thick. The goal creases are the lowest spots on the ice.
The hot water which is spread
on the ice is 130º, softened, to do a fast, clear, hard freeze. Figure
skaters want the ice to be 18-20º. Hockey players want a harder ice of
13-14º. The floor chiller which keeps the ice frozen is computerized and
allows for a 4º variation.
Steve Nelson, Tri-City Arena staff member
A Visit With the Blue Zamboni
Q: Hi. The fellow who works here
and drives you a lot, Jeff Halbert, says you are a Zamboni. We would like to
know more about you and your work here at the Kearney Event Center. Will you
answer some questions for us?
]A: Sure, what would you like to know?
Q: For starters, I see that there are two of you. Who is this guy parked
beside you? He looks like you except he’s painted white and advertises
Budweiser. Is he a Zamboni too?
A: Nah, that’s Olly. He’s an ice
cleaning machine like me, but he is an Olympia. That’s an off brand. I’m a
Q: How do you clean the ice?
A: First, my blade
shaves the ice. Then an auger picks up the shavings made by my blade and by
the player’s skates. It is pushed up a tube into that open space under my
hood. Sometimes you might see the driver pumping something as he drives. He
is clearing the tube if the ice sticks so it can continue to move up into
Q: Do you ever pick up anything else besides the shaved
A: Oh, yes. Anything that is laying on the ice. Splinters from
broken sticks. I’ve picked up a couple of teeth, one from an Omaha player
recently. Once I picked up a Nerf ball. That really screwed up things. We
had to stop immediately and come off the ice to get that thing out.
Q: What happens after you have shaved the ice?
A: Then water is
spread on the ice. We started using hot water three years ago because it
freezes faster and harder. And it melts into grooves left by skates. There
is a tank that holds 190 gallons of hot water up there in front, under the
box where the ice shavings go.
Q: How much water is used during a
A: Each of us will use about all our 190 gallons during
each intermission cleaning.
Q: What do you do with the ice shavings?
A: After I leave the ice, I park here in front of this trough. Then
I open my hood, lift up, and the ice slides down into the trough. It melts
in there and is drained away.
Q: Tell me about your blade. How sharp
A: It’s razor sharp. You gotta’ be careful or you’ll cut a
finger on it. In order to keep it that sharp it has to be sharpened once a
week. The guys send the blades to Lincoln for that. Obviously, we have more
than one blade here so when one is being sent out for sharpening, they can
put another one on me.
Q: I notice you have studded tires. Do they
give you good traction on the ice?
A: Yeah, but the drivers can’t go too
fast or I will fish tail on the turns.
Q: How fast can you go?
A: On ice I go about 5 miles per hour but I can get up to 15 miles per
hour. When I got this blue paint job with the red flames and Eustis Body
Shop ad, they took me to the Eustis shop on a trailer. It was kind of
disappointing. I was looking forward to driving up over I-80 on the
Q: Thank you very much for answering our questions. We look
forward to seeing you during intermissions at the next Storm game. When
there is another hat trick, we will make a point of getting all the hats and
other items off the ice before you come through so your system doesn’t get
A: Thanks, I appreciate that.
"Olly" the ice cleaner