Hay’s Daze: Human zambonis pushing shovels

I can still clearly remember pushing shovels around the ole outdoor rinks, even if – nay, especially if it was 20 below zero. And I’m talking Fahrenheit which everybody knows was much colder way back then. Our “home” rink for city league hockey was plunked right about where the Golden Circle is now (coincidence?) which was only a slapshot away from where I grew up in Parkvale.

Ricky Scott and I would trudge through the snow over to the rink, lugging duffle bags over our puny shoulders, tied just so to our Northland Pro #6 hockey sticks like tramps heading for a train. Never mind if there was a blizzard, ice storm or any other hockey-related act of God. In those days, just about the only thing that would cancel a Pee Wee hockey game was nuclear war. And that hardly ever happened.

A whole herd of ragamuffin Davey Keons and Bobby Hulls would gather in the shack pre-game and soon it would become a warm, bursting raucous clubhouse filled to the brim with the sounds and smells of little league hockey. Sticks clattering, skates clumping, mitts and toques drying out on the big gas stove in the middle. Ahh, nothing like the smell of burnt, wet wool in a skating shack, I always say.

Before the puck-drop all the kids on both teams had to head out and scrape the ice. There was always a game before ours or it was snowing and the ice had to be cleared, and we, of course, were the reluctant wee human Zambonis. We didn’t want to waste our pent-up goal-scoring energy on pushing a heavy shovel around the ice for what seemed like four or five freezing hours.

So sometimes we would pair up and put our shovels together in front of us making a “V” and then skate like hell down the ice, more often than not leaving more snow and crud behind than actually picking up. Or one or two of us would get stuck with one of the dreaded demon shovels that the rink guys had welded together. In my tiny brain I remember them as being about three shovels wide with a rectangular frame for a handle and weighing about as much as 1958 Ford Fairlane. By the time you managed to grunt one of those beasts up the ice and back your legs were noodles and you were so cold and tired all you wanted to do was go back in the shack and lie down beside the stove and smell the burning toques.

But when it was finally game time, our biggest fans (only fans?), our moms and dads, would take their places standing along the sides of the rink on snow drifts often as high as the boards themselves. And we Pee Wees would thrash around on the bumpy ice crashing and bashing, attempting to at least touch the puck once or twice during the game. Having the time of our lives.

I went down that hare hole of marvelous memories because I saw a news report the other day that revealed, in a rather surprised, incredulous tone that some indoor rinks in Canada have gone full-on electric. For their Zambonis, I mean. Those iconic ice resurfacing machines invented in 1949 by Frank J. Zamboni in California apparently leave ugly propane and/or natural gas fumes in the arena, which isn’t so great for players or fans who like to breathe. Hence, electric Zambonis. What will they think of next, electric cars?

But whether you are an electric fan (so to speak) or anti-lectric, there’s nothing quite like outdoor hockey, even if you have to be your own Zamboni.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. You can send him column ideas to harleyhay1@hotmail.com

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