While hockey players are technically the stars, the Zamboni driver has long entranced fans as they slowly return the ice to a pristine, smooth state, only to be ripped apart by skates once again. Here's the story of the Blackhawks' Lead Ice Technician Daniel Ahearn, who has been driving the Zamboni for decades, in his own words:
I got interested in hockey in 1961 after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup then. I was a whole five years old. I just kind of had a hockey stick in the basement, and a kid who lived a couple doors down, he was playing hockey at the rink in town and I got interested in it.
I started driving the machine when I was 12 years old. You know, when I was a little kid, I'd stand by the rink and I'd watch the Zamboni go around and then because I was a rink rat, I'd take my skates off right away from open skate around there and shovel the machine out. Then I'd drive it into the garage.
The first time I drove on the rink, it was a Sunday afternoon. The guy didn't show up, so I thought if I could drive it into the garage, I could probably drive it onto the rink. So that's what I did.
The ideal when you're done resurfacing it's like a sheet of glass. That's what you're looking for. All your cuts are filled in and that's kind of what the machine does. It's a resurfacer. There's actually a knife that cuts the ice, and then you have the fresh hot water that resurfaces the ice, after it's shaved and washed.
You kinda look at it while they're playing 'cause you know, it changes during the game. End of the period, I go out and we know what to adjust, kind of knowing your conditions when you go out there. Depending on the weather — whatever happens outside happens in here.
Here you got 20-some thousand people here and a lot of heat comes in the building with people. What are we, 98 degrees a piece? You need to look at what's going with the ice so you can adjust to it. It changes. I mean, it's just natural; it's frozen water, so it's gonna change.
I pull out and I'll look at the ice, OK this is what I got to do. Put the conditioner down, I'll adjust the blade, and what I think needs to get done, turn the water on, do a first pass and well it's not setting up very good, so now we back the water down a little bit, so when the players come out the ice is set up.
It's paying attention to what's going on, not just going out there and turn the water on and go. And you can't hear nothing out there. People I know, 'Hey I'm screaming at you on the stands!' I can't even hear the machine running out here.
The guys from the 80s - Stan Mikita, Ivan Boldirev, they used to come to the rink in Westmont and do their preseason skate to get ready for the season, and I used to skate with them. I wanted to be a player, but you know but that kind of passed me by when I blew my knee out when I was a teenager.
The skates are like wearing concrete boots now - there's no flex in them so everything goes into the ice. I remember they could have a two-hour practice and it would be nothing, now you do a 45 minute practice, it tears the ice up. The way teams run their offense now, everything goes in front of the net, so that's where all the heavy action is.
I've always worked in an ice rink, you know? I've probably been in almost every rink in Chicago, working on their machines, and out of state.
I'm still a fan. I don't watch most of the game anymore, but we got our little court side seats over there. Because there's so many people over there we just sit and watch it on TV.
It is a responsibility. You know, there's so many variables, we just, you know, we do what we have to do, and we try and give them the best sheet of ice that we can produce.
Note: This interview was edited for formatting purposes