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On Nov. 7, Tyler McDonald takes the wheel of the Zamboni, resurfacing over 1,500 square metres of ice in under 10 minutes. After working at the rink in Nepean for five years, operating the five-ton machine has become a part of the daily routine. [Photo © Lisa Xu]

Life on the ice: Behind the scenes with a Zamboni driver

After the last pair of skates exits the ice – leaving only an empty rink with scores of blade marks on the surface – Tyler McDonald and Dylan Gervais get to work.

The duo operate behind the scenes at the city’s Howard Darwin Centennial Arena in Nepean, taking care of everything from ice maintenance to facility cleaning. 

With McDonald manning the Zamboni and Gervais providing support, the ice is resurfaced in less than 10 minutes. It’s something that happens five to seven times every night.

When the next group of athletes arrive, a fresh sheet of ice greets them, and McDonald and Gervais take a breather before doing it all over again. 

A view of the ice from the Zamboni garage at the back of the arena. The rink is used by skaters of all ages from young ringette players to recreational men’s leagues. During the summer, the ice is taken out, and the rink becomes an arena for competitive lacrosse. [Photo © Graham Neysmith]
McDonald does an hourly check of the gauges in the control room to make sure the ice is between -6 C to -8 C. The system works harder to cool the ice when the weather is warm. [Photo © Graham Neysmith]

McDonald is in the driver’s seat of the Zamboni in the garage as he waits for athletes to finish. McDonald is required to wear a helmet and protective gloves while manning the machine. [Photo © Lisa Xu]
McDonald leans over the side of the Zamboni to make sure he’s getting every inch of the ice surface so he doesn’t have to double-back and do an extra lap. It takes years to master the Zamboni, he says. [Photo © Lisa Xu]

Dylan Gervais waits for the Zamboni to finish the round before stepping in. Resurfacing the ice is a two-person job. He shovels the ice and positions the nets. [Photo © Graham Neysmith]
One hand on the wheel and one hand operating the blade, McDonald steadily makes his way around the rink.  The level of the blade determines how much snow and slush is being scraped from the ice. Drivers need to be constantly aware of how much they are scraping. [Photo © Lisa Xu]

Extra Zamboni blades are propped against a wall in the garage, labelled according to sharpness. “They’re sharp enough to cut your finger off,” says McDonald. [Photo © Graham Neysmith]

Gervais drills a hole near the goal crease where the hockey nets are located. Steel pegs that secure the net go in the holes. Goaltenders generally like choppy ice in their crease, so the area requires extra attention from the maintenance crew. [Photo © Lisa Xu]

McDonald prepares to dump the snow stored in the Zamboni into a pile behind the building. The Zamboni scrapes excess snow and slush from the ice and stores it in its front compartment. [Photo © Graham Neysmith]
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