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Volume 90, Issue 93

Thursday, March 20, 1997



Zambonies: EXPOSED

©James Pugsley/Gazette
MEN AND MACHINE. Mike Thompson [left] and Art Naujokaitis are just two of the men responsible for maintaining quality ice conditions at Western's Thompson Arena.

By James Pugsley
Gazette Staff

Sitting behind the wheel of a finely-tuned machine can send shivers down the spine of any vehicle connoisseur. Of course, if the machine is designed to drive on ice and help maintain a quality freeze, that too can be responsible for shivers. Regardless, a look into the magical and mysterious world of Zambonies – the hot rods of artificial ice conditioning – reveals the truth and tribulations of the awesome metal power-flooders and the mortals who drive them.

The realm of Zambonies is a seldomly conquered and rarely examined phenomenon. Everything from the loud roar of a natural gas-powered engine, to the gentle spray of water beneath the soft caress of the creamy rear skirt, makes Zambonies an integral part of modern day grooming (of ice, that is).

Unfortunately, not only does society downplay the importance of proper ice care, but people often ignore the omnipresence which these tire-studded giants (the machines, not the drivers) represent.

Let's begin by examining the mechanics of a Zamboni, invented by Frank Zamboni whose California-based work in the 1950s has become an important part of the Canadian way of life decades later (via hockey). First, take a General Motors 4 x 4 chassis, add four studded tires for grip on ice, a set of augers (spiral-shaped metal used to transport the snow), two large water tanks (one for washing and the other for flooding), a conditioner (the actual washing/shaving device) and a big container to hold the icy remnants (called a bucket). Presto – instant ice-grooming machinery.

The conditioner, which rests below the driver at the back of the vehicle, is the most important feature on every Zamboni. Beneath its coffin-style frame, lies an 85-inch razor for shaving the ice. Behind the blade are water spraying devices – separated by a squeegee – which wash and flood, meanwhile the augers dump ice shavings into the bucket where they will rest until a melting finish.

The brave driver must judge the amount of flooding and depth of the surface cut, as well as keep alert at all times to avoid crashing into the boards, a misplaced hockey net or a fellow worker. Such incidents tend only to occur when something distracts the driver – as was the case three years ago when the Western cheerleaders, who practice on the track inside Thompson Arena, impaired the judgment of a driver, who then impaled the alignment of the boards with his Zamboni.

Art Naujokaitis is an ice maintenance specialist at Thompson Arena, home to the Western Mustang hockey team. Naujokaitis, a 40 year-old London native, has spent over 20 years concentrating on keeping a top-notch freeze on Thompson's ice and he is currently one of only two full-time ice conditioning crew members at the arena.

"There's more to ice than just flooding – the Zamboni is only part of it," said Naujokaitis, who feels he is qualified enough to apply for work at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. "It's about gaining the proper experience in ice maintenance."

Naujokaitis, like many ice engineers across Ontario, attends a University of Guelph ice maintenance refrigeration course each year. He then passes his knowledge on to the part-time staff, a group of four Western students who split the arena duties throughout the week.

Mike Thompson, a first-year social science student from Wyoming, Ontario, is one of the part-timers who drives the Zamboni.

"It's not as easy as it looks," Thompson said. "It took hours and hours of practice and trial and error to get good."

According to Thompson, the hardest part about driving the vehicle is adjusting to zero visibility on every second pass up the ice. And unless the machine breaks down in mid-flood, he has no fear of pushing the Zamboni to its 20 km/h limit.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997