A Zamboni prepares the ice prior to the start of a game between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
By Alan Bass
Imagine playing hockey in the 1920s.
During intermission, there was no easy way to clean the ice; just men with buckets of steaming water, shovels and the love they have for the game.
But one man – a man with a vision – changed hockey forever.
Frank Zamboni, a Utah native, had been working on a design for a self-propelled ice-resurfacing machine. The vehicle, he believed, would revolutionize hockey. It would shave the ice smooth with frontal blades and pick up leftover snow on the ice, while laying down a thin layer of water to make the ice look and feel brand new.
Zamboni went through numerous early versions of the vehicle, entitled Models A through F, lasting until 1956. In 1964, though, the company created the “HD Series” of Zambonis, which was the first version to not be built on a Jeep chassis.
The current make of Zambonis, the “500 Series,” was created in 1978 and introduced the liquid-cooled engine, in addition to being a fully electric machine; it was incredible technology at the time and still is today.
Zamboni – finally being recognized for his life-long work – is being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this year and will be joined by three players - John LeClair, Tony Amonte and Tom Barrasso – as well as the 1998 women’s Olympic hockey team.
The Zamboni is unlike anything else in the sports world. With the precise temperatures, conditions, equipment and expertise necessary to maintain an ice rink, hockey may just have the most high-maintenance playing surface in all of sport.
Baseball fans don’t watch lawnmowers and field caretakers with wide-eyed wonder. Football fans don’t watch the lines being painted on the field with a big smile on their face. Basketball fans don’t watch that guy with the circular mop soak up sweat from the floor with hopes of one day seeing him up close.
But, as Charlie Brown once said, “There are three things in life that people like to stare at: a flowing stream, a crackling fire and a Zamboni clearing the ice.”
Frank Zamboni’s passion and desire to succeed was summed up by his philosophy of marketing: “The principal product you have to sell is the ice itself.”
His lifelong mission, guided by that statement, worked perfectly, as his company remains the highest-selling ice-resurfacing company in the world. In fact, since the idea was patented in 1949, the company has produced more than 8,500 Zambonis.
And now, on the 60th anniversary of this incredible vehicle, hockey has recognized Frank Zamboni with the highest honor in the U.S. hockey world.