For eight minutes at a time, Dan Gould is a celebrity.
He’s the Hockey Rink Coordinator at the Williston Northampton School’s Lossone Arena, and he also runs the school’s electric Zamboni during games to resurface the ice between periods.
“I like doing it during games because people are watching you,” Gould said. “It’s nice being the center of attention, I guess.”
“You’re a little kid’s hero,” added Mark Glowatsky, who also works as a Zamboni driver, as well as on grounds at the school. “The little kids waving at you, so you got to wave back.”
For those unacquainted with the world of ice-rink maintenance, a Zamboni (pronounced Zam-bo-nee) is a brand name that has become synonymous with ice resurfacers. Put another way, Zamboni is to ice resurfacers what Kleenex is to tissues or Dumpster is to garbage bins. (There are two other major manufacturers of ice resurfacers in North America: Resurfice Corporation, which sells Olympia-brand machines, and the Okay Elektra made by ICEtech.) The Williston School isn’t the only indoor rink in the area – the University of Massachusetts Amherst has the William D. Mullins Memorial Center and Amherst College has Orr Rink.
But there’s something about the Zamboni that just draws people in. “You tell people you are a Zamboni driver, they say ‘Oh, wow. I’ve always wanted to do that,’ ” said Gould, who grew up playing hockey. “I think everyone in the world wants to drive a Zamboni.”
Well, maybe not everyone. Growing up in the Twin Cities, I’d never really thought about driving a Zamboni, but once I’d watched Gould in action, getting behind the wheel of one was all I could think about the next week. I found it mesmerizing and calming to watch this mammoth of a machine (with water, a typical one weighs more than 12,000 pounds) turn a sliced-up patch of ice into a glass-smooth surface, even though I had no plans to set foot (or blade) on it myself.
And I’m not the only one — YouTube is filled with videos of this magical ice machine slowly imposing order as it goes. It’s very satisfying to watch. Zamboni, the company, recognizes the cultish appeal of its products and has a “Fun Facts” page on its website. (Fun Fact #37: “When Minnesota regained its NHL hockey team, they had a Zamboni machine parade,” which made national headlines.)
The Williston school’s rink is open from September through March, when it is converted into an indoor baseball and lacrosse arena. Depending on the weather, it takes about a week to turn the arena into an ice rink. When it’s time to make the rink, the process begins with a concrete surface and a light misting of water. Once that layer dries, another mist goes down and the steps get repeated until there is about ¼ to ½ inch of ice.
“From there you can put the Zamboni down, and you are dropping 200 to 300 gallons of water,” Gould said.
You don’t need a special license to drive one, but it does take practice and patience to master the proper technique.
“It’s a fine art to doing it because you can’t see where you’re going. You can’t see over it — the nose is so long on it,” Gould said of the machine. “When you’re driving, you don’t really see. You do it by feel.”
Indoor skating holds the promise of consistent ice conditions, but for some people, outdoor skating on town rinks or on private ponds has it own allure. Back in the 19th century, skating wasn’t just reserved to ponds — the New Haven and Northampton Canal froze enough so that people could skate from Easthampton to Northampton, said Laurie Sanders, the co-executive director of Historic Northampton. Former Gazette editor Henry S. Gere wrote about making the trek himself while at Williston Seminary in his book “Sketches of the Town as it Appeared.”
For ice-skating enthusiasts, there are many hidden gems in the Valley, if you just know where to look. Popular skating spots from past and present include Paradise Pond at Smith College in Northampton, Look Park and Fitzgerald Lake in Florence, Puffer’s Pond in Amherst and Burgy Ice Rink in Williamsburg. There’s even a Facebook group, Western Mass Ice Skaters, dedicated to outdoor skating on lakes, ponds and other waterways in the area.
On New Year’s Day, after a year of planning, the town of Cummington opened its own ice rink in front of Pettingill Park to little fanfare. There was no ribbon-cutting ceremony, no inaugural spin around the rink — just kids and adults on the ice going for a skate. The town’s recreation committee plans to have an official grand opening this Saturday, from 1 to 4 p.m., complete with a bonfire, hot chocolate, treats and a portable toilet.
As of last week, the organizers were still working out a few kinks and waiting for better weather conditions, but even as a work in progress, the rink has been a success. “I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback,” said Eliza Dragon, a member of the Cummington Recreation Committee.
In Cummington, with its population under 900, the rink is also a unique place for the town to come together.
“Our elementary school closed two years ago, so it’s hard to find ways to keep our kids connected to each other because all of our kids go to about five different elementary schools right now,” Dragon said, referring to the closure of Berkshire Trail Elementary in the spring of 2015. “That’s why we did the rink — just try to bring our community back together.”
And it’s not just for kids, added Cummington resident Brian Gilman: “There are adults in town — like our fire chief and the former police chief — who used to do this, who came back and are helping out. It’s kind of neat to connect older and younger generations, too.”
Former Cummington Police Chief Dennis Forgea helped create the town rink in the 1970s, along with his brother. At that time, and during a brief resurrection about a decade ago, the rink was under the pavilion at Pettingill Park. Forgea now serves as the town’s water operator, and as such, he was there to help set the rink up and sees it on an almost daily basis. “It’s just really good to see the kids enjoying it,” Forgea said.
Growing up in Concord, New Hampshire, Gilman said he would skate every day on a rink belonging to neighbors. “I’m really happy to get my own kids out here now, learning to skate and practicing and falling and getting back up and hitting a hockey puck around,” he said.
Located off Main Street, and visible from Route 9, passersby can see skaters doing a few laps and hitting a puck around without leaving the comfort of their warm cars. Gilman said he has enjoyed seeing people skate and play hockey as he drives past.
“I’m hoping this will be a hub to bring us back together,” he said of the rink. “I think winter in the Hilltowns is a lot of shuffling down the paths between snow banks, and this is a chance for everyone to get out and do something different.”
Discussions about creating the rink began in fall 2016 when Dragon approached the town’s recreation committee with the idea. The group agreed it was something they could do and bought a plastic rink liner, but by the time it arrived, it was too late to set it up. So, it was saved for this winter. Using funds from the former Berkshire Trail Parent Teacher Organization to buy the rink liner and money from the recreation committee to buy lumber for the rink’s frame, Dragon and a group of volunteers — including family, friends and local firefighters — set to work to build the rink.
The frame went up in November, and “then we just had to wait for freezing temperatures to put the liner in and fill it,” Dragon said.
When the cold weather finally arrived in December, the frame was filled with the help of the Cummington Fire Department. Now it’s a shovel-your-own situation, and all the skaters pitch in to keep the ice clear.
On a chilly night last week, Dragon, her husband Adam and their daughter, Julia, met Gilman and his three children at the rink. Using their cars headlights, the trio lit the rink so their kids could skate. For some additional support, Gilman brought a metal folding chair to act as a sort of skate support.
Five-year-old Lorelei Gilman was new to the ice. “It’s kind of scary because you don’t know how to skate your first time,” she said. Eight-year-old Julia Dragon compared the experience of skating to floating: “It feels like you’re flying through the air, but you’re actually just on solid ice.”
“It’s really fun,” added eight-year-old Amelia Gilman. “You can kind of like glide across the ice.”
Learning a new skill is part of the attraction for 10-year-old Ezra Gilman. “It is fun, but the skates make your feet go numb,” Ezra said. “Right now my skates are tied so tight my feet are suffocating.”
In the weeks leading up to this story, I asked practically everyone I knew if they knew of anyone who made their own version of a Zamboni, or “home-boni,” if you will. No one did. As a Minnesotan, I spent my childhood (and my teenage years) braving the cold in order to have a little bit of outdoor fun on a sled or on one of West St. Paul’s four ice rinks — three of them were at the same park – less than a mile from my house. Growing up, I didn’t personally know anyone with a home-boni. But had I been reporting this story in my home state — the land of 10,000 lakes (or in winter – 10,000 rinks) — I was convinced I’d be able to find one.
Here in Massachusetts, finding such a contraption wasn’t easy. I had almost lost hope when, late last week, one of my colleagues, photojournalist Sarah Crosby, told me about Granby resident Nancy Mack. Mack has been on the ice since she was three years old. When she was growing up in West Springfield, her dad used to flood their side yard. Now an adult herself with four grown children (and two grandchildren), Mack’s love of the ice hasn’t faded. If anything, it has intensified.
At her home off Batchelor Street, she has her own skating rink, which she enjoys with family and friends — a pond on her multi-acre property.
“Pond ice is one of those things … when it’s right, you get your skates on,” she said.
Last year, Mack said she was sick of waiting for nature to make the perfect skating rink so she decided to take the matter into her own hands. In an effort to make a smoother skating surface, Mack first tried using a hose, but that only made holes in the ice.
“I said, ‘Alright, I’m making a Zamboni,’ ” she said.
Using an old lobster pot that came with the house, a hose, PVC pipe, a rug, a sled, a few cinder blocks and a strap to cinch the pot down, Mack built her ice resurfacer. Just as with a real Zamboni, Mack uses hot water in the resurfacing process. (She heats up the water using a fire pit next to the pond.) For now, the sled is pulled by hand, but Mack said what she really needs is a tricycle or a wagon. The system is gravity fed, so the bucket has to be high enough off the sled to allow for the water to trickle down. How much of the ice surface Mack clears depends on how ambitious all the skaters — her friends and family — feel that day.
Mack has lived in her Granby home for about 17 years and during that time learned a few important lessons about maintaining a pond rink. When ice melts and then refreezes, it can cause makeshift hockey nets, like a chair, to get stuck to the ice and then sink into the pond. Last year, Mack said she had wait until the ice melted and then use a kayak to retrieve a chair that had become frozen to the pond. “This year, I swore I would buy actual hockey goals,” she said.
Among other things, she uses her homemade ice resurfacer to remove sticks that have become frozen to the ice. It also helps to safely smooth the pits that get created from skating. “I broke my wrist on this pond because I didn’t have a Zamboni,” Mack said.
The incident, Mack said, happened over a Superbowl weekend (and her daughter’s birthday),when the ice had become extremely pitted because of all the skaters that had been using it that weekend. Mack was skating backwards when she hit a rut and went down hard. Since then, Mack said, her children have insisted that she wear wrist braces whenever she skates.
“You can’t skate the heck out of the ice,” she said. “You have to manage it.”
On a good day, Mack said she’ll be on the ice beginning around 9 a.m. and stay out until 5 p.m.
“I like the fluidity. It’s like swimming almost … you go forever,” she said. “It’s freeing.”
Source : http://www.gazettenet.com/The-art-and-zen-of-ice-rink-maintenance-in-the-Valley-14702150