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6 Things: Smoothing things over

Thursday, 15.10.2009 / 5:00 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
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6 Things: Smoothing things over

When the Vancouver Canucks are struggling during a home game, few people can smooth things over like Steve Caron.

As Olympia driver for the team, it’s what he does best.

Caron is one of five Olympia drivers who care for the ice at GM Place, all of whom are fourth-class engineers and are quick to point out that they don't drive Zambonis, that's actually a registered trademark term that is often used to describe all ice resurfacers. The two machines the Canucks use are in fact Olympias, Zamboni’s biggest competitor.

For eight seasons Caron has washed, cut and made fresh ice and he’s learned a thing or two about it over that time. Caron recently revealed six things you should know about driving an Olympia for the Canucks.

NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED

“I worked here as a crew leader for conversions for about seven years before I heard someone was quitting and they wanted me to get my fourth-class engineer ticket and join that department. I had never driven a zamboni or anything, but they said no problem. Here are the keys. Try it. So I spent about three or four days just doing the pattern. I knew the pattern already from having watched others do it, but it was a matter of getting it right, like knowing when to turn so you don’t leave a big white streak or a big banana at the end. I did three days with no water, no cutting, no nothing, just driving the pattern. They maybe gave me 10 days before it was show time. Get on the ice and do it.”

NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES

“You’ve got six minutes to get on and off the ice, not to go on and around and around and around until you get it right. You don’t have time to put two layers of water down. We get on at the 12 minute mark, we have to get off at the six minute mark, because we need six minutes for that to set up. The refs show up at the two minute mark, so we really only get four minutes for it to actually set up. To spend another lap out there would throw everything off and the players would be skating on wet ice. It’s a real timing thing and there’s no room for error. It gets a little stressful that way.”

EVERYONE SCREWS UP

“I ran out of propane about two feet from the end of my pattern one time. I was conditioning the ice so there was hot water being used and I was dead in the water so it started melting everything. Everybody was screaming at me to do this and do that and I didn’t know what to do. We finally got it off the ice but not before I burned two big black holes right down to the cement in the ice. They were two huge mothering holes. We had to get some slush and fix it, but for the rest of the game and most of the year you could see these two big black lines. That was like my third or fourth game. Since then I’ve left the odd banana, but that’s it.”

Mmm...DONUTS!

“Those machines are really easy to pull donuts with. You can pull donut on that thing like nothing. It doesn’t go very fast, but man oh man, it is so much fun pulling donuts. That machine weighs a lot and the unit on the back that conditions weighs 2,000 pounds so when you get the momentum of it going, it’s just like a slingshot. That thing will just sit down and the front end flies around. I do it all the time, it’s so much fun. I usually try to wait until the end of the season because it really chews up the ice. There are steel studs on the tires, so it’s just like a cheese grater, it really rips it up.”

PREPARATION IS KEY

“Everybody just thinks the machine is always ready to go, but it’s not. You’ve got to fill it with water, you’ve got the wash water to fill up, you’ve got to clean the auger off every time, so there’s lot of preparation involved. Then when I come off the ice it’s the same thing, I’ve got to clean the machine up and get it turned around and ready for the next flood. The machines both just dumped a bucket of ice each into the pit as well, it’s four feet high, 12 feet wide and 10 feet long and I’ve got to get rid of that because the next scrape I’m going to have another pile the same size.”

IT'S ALL ABOUT TRADITION

“When you tell people you drive the zamboni, your @#$% does not stink. You’re like a god. It’s really fun how iconic the zamboni is and it’s because of the tradition and heritage of it. They started outside with the little tractor and now we’re got these massive machines. There’s something mesmerizing about them for sure. Even people who go watch games but don’t care who wins, they want to see the zamboni zip around. When I do my first pass I’m right up against the boards and it’s always just packed with little kids. They’re all waving at me and I’m trying to wave back, it’s just great.”