42.9709° N, 82.4249° W
Port Huron, Michigan
McMorran Place Zamboni Driver
By Patti Samar
It isn’t easy making ice. Especially the slick, crisp ice hockey players love. It can be a painstaking process. Great care is given to the ice at McMorran Place of Port Huron, in order to prep the ice for the Silver Stick tournament every January. I figure skated for a brief moment and I grew up in a hockey family, so I had some inkling that there was a science to ice preparation, but mostly, as a kid, I just wanted to ride on a Zamboni. Thanks to Allan Ferguson at McMorran Place, who taught me all about the finer points of resurfacing the ice, I finally checked that item off my bucket list. –Editor
On a cold January Wednesday, the day before the opening ceremony of the first Silver Stick hockey tournament weekend, the Port Huron High School hockey team coaching staff was putting its team through a series of agility drills. Up and down the red line the team skated. And stopped. Skated. And stopped. Snow flew into the air as skates pivoted, turned in the opposite direction and then did it again.
Allan Ferguson knew what that meant for him: extra hot water on the red line to keep the ice surface in top condition for the myriad of teams coming to skate during the upcoming hockey tournament.
Ferguson, an employee for more than 22 years at the McMorran Place in downtown Port Huron, handles a wide variety of maintenance duties at the civic center. Among his most important duties is driving the Zamboni and maintaining the ice surfaces for the two ice rinks at McMorran.
And there is a lot more to it than zipping around on the Zamboni, scraping snow off the ice surface.
“The ice has to be prepped properly,” said Ferguson. “It’s not just driving the Zamboni. It takes about 35 to 40 minutes to properly prep the ice.
“For example, the rink wall has to be chipped down for proper puck handling.”
Ferguson and other maintenance staff members at McMorran keep a close eye on a number of weather and temperature related factors — among other issues — when preparing to take to the ice to keep it in tip-top condition.
“Cold weather does help,” he said, but noted: “We have to use some heat for public comfort, but there’s a limit or otherwise it’s not good for the ice surface.”
According to Ferguson, in the Main Arena, the staff can allow a fairly comfortable temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In the Junior Pavilion Arena, due to a number of temperature control issues, the air temperature is best kept at 45 degrees.
The way the Zamboni is used also plays a major factor in keeping teams happy, particularly during an important tournament such as the Silver Stick.
The ice is resurfaced using domesticated hot water heated to a temperature of 130 degrees. Zamboni drivers call that “conditioning” the ice. How much water is distributed on the ice surface depends on a number of factors.
“You look at the depth of the cut in the ice,” said Ferguson, noting that: “It is different from age group to age group.”
The driver can also adjust how much he scrapes the ice. “There is a trick to the scraping,” he said.
In preparation for a big hockey event such as the Silver Stick tournament, Ferguson noted that it is important to build up a solid base and at the end of each tournament day, the staff spends extra time resurfacing and prepping the ice for the next day of heavy use.
“At the end of the day, you need to add more water,” he said. “That’s the trick.”
Though Ferguson’s duties at McMorran are all important — he fixes the roof, keeps the ice compressors operational and maintains the boilers, among a wide variety of other tasks — he realizes the Zamboni driving is what the public sees and can relate to.
“If you miss a spot while resurfacing the ice during a game, you can hear it from the crowd,” he said. “They’ll yell, ‘you missed a spot!’ or ‘you’re adding too much water!’ or ‘you need more water!’”
And he takes all of that to heart.
“It’s tough being behind the scenes,” he said, “because it’s for the public for them to enjoy and have fun. And you want them to have fun.”