Since its inception, the ice resurfacer has changed the game of hockey and cultivated a strange amount of reverence within pop culture
David Ayers rose to stardom under the moniker the, ‘Zamboni goalie,’ although that nickname is not entirely accurate.
After his historic performance as emergency goalie for the North Carolina Hurricanes, Ayres has been the centre of a media storm. The fact that he was once the driver of an ice resurfacer was initially what captured the public’s collective imagination.
Ice resurfacer? Don’t you mean a Zamboni? Well, yes, but Zamboni is only a brand of ice resurfacer, a fact that is often overlooked.
Ayres also hasn’t driven the ice resurfacer for a couple of years. He has spent years working hard to recover from his kidney transplant and become an emergency goalie in the Toronto area. So why did so many Canadians’ hearts swell when they read that Ayres drove a Zamboni? Why is there such a reverence for this machine?
The ice resurfacer was invented in 1949 by an American, Frank J. Zamboni. His new invention solved a massive problem.
The initial technique for cleaning the ice was time-consuming and exhausting. The ice had to be first scraped. The shaving would then be gathered and thrown away and the remaining ice would be cleaned by hand using squeegees. Lastly, more water would be sprayed onto the ice and allowed to freeze — a ridiculous process. Often players would skate on bad ice in order to put off the lengthy cleaning.
Zamboni’s initial design was esthetically odd but incredibly effective. His creation was first regularly used in the NHL by the Boston Bruins in the 1954-1955 season. The machine has since been adopted as the official method for resurfacing by the league.
Since its inception, the machine has captured the public’s imagination.
The song, I Wanna Drive The Zamboni, was released by the Gear Daddies in 1990. The track follows the journey of a man who wants to drive an ice resurfacer. It has since been covered by other artists and adopted into the hockey song pantheon.
Al Sobotka has garnered attention in the hockey world for his long-running role as the ice resurfacer driver for the Detroit Red Wings. Sobotka has become a de facto mascot for the otherwise unrepresented Red Wings. He has been at the centre of one of the team’s oddest traditions, octopus twirling. Sobotka will twirl an octopus over his head in front of a crowd of screaming fans.
Zamboni’s biggest competitor is a Canadian brand. Olympia was founded in Elmira, Ont., and manufactures many of the ice resurfacers seen in at our local rinks.
The ice resurfacer is ingrained in Canadian culture. It is a quintessential part of the nation’s favourite game. When you drive the machine you become a symbol for the spirit of hockey.