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It's a Zamboni -- not!

There are no Zamboni's in Superior, or many other hockey arenas in the Twin Ports area. "Calling all ice resurfacing machines a Zamboni is like calling all copy machines Xerox's," said 58-year-old John Hack, full time Superior Ice Arena manager a...

There are no Zamboni's in Superior, or many other hockey arenas in the Twin Ports area.

"Calling all ice resurfacing machines a Zamboni is like calling all copy machines Xerox's," said 58-year-old John Hack, full time Superior Ice Arena manager and part time ice resurfacer driver.

What is commonly referred to as the Zamboni by most people, is a 4-cylinder Ford ice- resurfacing machine that was invented in the late 1940's by Frank Zamboni in California. The large machine is designed to clear the ice of debris, shave the ice to even it out and spread water to create a clean, smooth sheet for skaters.

The machine has been elevated in status by songs such as "I Wanna Drive The Zamboni" by the Gear Daddies and a band named The Zamboni's who sing hockey songs. The latest tribute is called a "Clamboni," which is referenced in Spongebob Squarepants, a popular cartoon show.

In Superior and the surrounding area, the machine of choice is the Olympia, a General Motors ice resurfacer with a Chevy V-8. Hack agrees with the choice. The Olympia is actually born a GM truck, then taken to Canada and transformed into the machine all hockey players come to know well.

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"If we blow an engine or transmission, we take it right over to Larson Chevrolet --that is the beauty of the thing," Hack said.

Ice in their blood

Hack became involved in hockey as a volunteer when his son began playing in the late 1970s at the old municipal hockey arena, current site of SuperOne. Hack became manager at the Superior Ice Arena in 1996. He and three other employees drive the Olympia. Drivers must be 18 years old and successfully complete 10 hours of training before they begin resurfacing ice without supervision. In the old days, it was different.

"They used to throw you the keys and say, go resurface," Hack said. He doesn't use volunteers. "It's easier on the equipment this way," Hack said.

There are two Olympia's at the Superior Ice Arena even though there is just one sheet of ice. If one machine breaks down, the other can get the job done and keep events on schedule. The Superior Ice Arena focuses on hockey events only to fill their ice time, not carnivals or car shows like some arenas, so it's very important to have a working resurfacer year round.

"All we do is ice 365 days a year," Hack said.

Bigger is better

Terry Hinnenkamp of Duluth works 20-30 hours a week at Mars Lakeview Arena. He has been driving ice resurfacer machines for 21 years and has driven the revered Zamboni machine at Peterson, Fryberger and Hermantown arenas.

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"This (Olympia) has a lot more capacity then a Zamboni, it holds a lot more water than a Zamboni, holds more snow than a Zamboni--it has more power then you actually need to resurface," said Hinnenkamp. The Olympia is a lot bigger to drive then a Zamboni, "it doesn't look that big until you sit on it," said Hinnenkamp. "I like this much better...it's a lot more user-friendly."

Hinnenkamp works at Mars part-time in the evenings, resurfacing the ice between high school and college hockey games.

A doggone mascott

Dave Johnson of Cloquet, known by his hockey family as "Big Dave," is retired and drives the Olympia 18-20 hours a week between the high school games at the Cloquet Area Recreation Center. It's the only brand he has driven, and that's fine with him. He began driving the machine as a volunteer parent 14 years ago when his two boys played hockey in the Pine Valley Arena. Johnson was trained to drive the ice resurfacer by other volunteer parents at the time. His training went smoothly, but over the years of training other drivers, Johnson has been almost rubbed off of the machine several times. When the opportunity to switch to a paid position opened, Johnson took it.

Several years ago, Johnson came to work one day and was surprised to discover somebody had written "Big Dave" on the Olympia. To this day he has no idea who was responsible.

Johnson's 14-year-old German Shepard, Missy is the unofficial mascot. Missy has appeared in the advertising between the Minnesota Wild hockey games, which features different players and arenas throughout Minnesota.

Johnson's boys and teammates began a tradition many years ago. They would gather at the low part of the glass over the rink in Pine Valley and "high-five" Johnson as he slowly drove the ice resurfacer along the edge of the rink. Some of the teammates were upset that Johnson would high five the opposing teams. His son informed them that when his dad was resurfacing the ice, he was neutral.

Hinnenkamp enjoys working the many games, but does have one that stands out in his memory.

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"Years ago, working at Peterson, I had lost a main hydraulic hose When I looked back, I had left a line of red fluid behind me. I actually thought for a split second that I hit somebody," he said.

Hack's favorite memory is a happier one. He taught local reporter and fellow University of Wisconsin Superior alumni Julie Moravchik how to drive the ice resurfacer for one of her television segments. "She did a good job," he Hack.

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