Park City Ice Arena’s Zamboni drivers do it for the love of hockey
A game in the life of Zamboni drivers George Moldenhaur and Chris Tomczyk
October 25, 2017
At 10:30 p.m. on Sundays, the Park City Ice Arena is almost empty. The rental counter is dark and unattended, there isn't a soul in the bleachers. The only people at the rink are the league hockey players and two officials: George Moldenhaur, Chris Tomczyk, who keep score and drive the Zamboni.
It's a late night, but Moldenhaur says it's worth it. It's his way of sticking close to a game he has enjoyed his whole life, but can no longer play.
During a recent game, he pointed out one of the hockey players.
"This guy on the ice right now, probably 15 years ago we played on the same team," he said. "He's still playing, I'm not."
His legs aren't up to it. After four knee surgeries ("I've had both replaced, one failed, so I'm walking around without an ACL in one leg," he said), playing hockey is out of the question.
Instead, Moldenhaur keeps score and runs the clock. That entails keeping stats and serving as another set of eyes for the referees, which doesn't take the thrill out of the game, but does keep him from celebrating.
“I've gotta be Switzerland," he said. "I have to maintain my neutrality. I still enjoy it, but you can't cheer for anybody. That wouldn't look good."
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After each goal or foul, referees skate up to Moldenhaur's Plexiglas booth and lean over to a slot between the glass or a hole in the booth's front to speak. Sometimes, the refs say a string of numbers to be transcribed into Molendhaur's stat book, other times the description of a foul. Occasionally, they just want to chat.
"How long did you ref for?" a referee asks him.
"Twelve years," said Moldenhaur.
"That's a friggin' prison sentence," the ref replies.
Moldenhaur told him he got off for good behavior.
Tomczyk, who had finished cleaning the locker room hallway, walked around the back of the booth and joined Moldenhaur.
Like Moldenhaur, Tomczyk started working at the rink because he loves hockey. Driving the Zamboni and cleaning up gives him discounts on arena programming.
"Lots of ice time," Tomczyk said. "During the summer it's fun to come in and just skate with a stick and pucks on open ice. Do some drills. Stay young."
"That's one of the bennies," Moldenhaur said.
Tomczyk is the veteran. He's worked at the arena for six years while Moldenhaur only started 10 months ago – driving the Zamboni, then keeping score.
"Everyone wants to drive the Zamboni," Moldenhaur said. "I went from parking enforcement — probably one of the most hated people in park City — to driving a Zamboni. As far as the kids go, now I'm one of the most beloved. Total opposite end of the spectrum."
He doubles down on his popularity at Christmas, when he grows his white beard long and moonlights as Santa. He said last year he drove the Zamboni in costume, and plans on repeating the act in December.
Tomczyk holds out his phone and shows a picture of the Zamboni last October, when they fitted it with a prop that looked like the Grim Reeper for Halloween.
Sometimes, though, driving the Zamboni is real work. For example, the Arena staff repainted the lines under the ice over the summer, which meant draining the ice, then laying a new layer of ice after the paint dried.
"You spend quite a few days, just every 20 minutes, laying more water out, laying more water out, laying more water out," Tomczyk said. "You want it about an inch and a quarter thick, but to get it there, it takes a couple days of someone driving all the time to build it up, little by little."
Mondays are also tough. Every week someone must drive the Zamboni around the rink and dry-scrape the edges down so the surface is level, which can take up to an hour and a half.
Nevertheless, Tomczyk and Moldenhaur say, people have an inexplicable love of the slow-rolling machine. Moldenhaur then facetiously speculated about the prospects of hosting a Zamboni fantasy camp.
"It's a good gig," he concluded. "I don't think I could ever really be retired. I get bored too easily, and if you have to do something, you might as well do something you enjoy."
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