For some, star of game is driver of the Zamboni


NEW YORK -- The Madison Square Garden ice was new again, shimmering like glass, and now Frank Reynolds of the Bronx was leaning on a big squeegee. It was Monday night. Soon the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers would begin scuffing everything up. Reynolds was wearing white coveralls and studded shoes, talking of a strange hockey cult.

He said: "There are people out there who are Zamboni freaks. They see the Zamboni, they go crazy, like it's a red Corvette or something. I'll be sitting at a bar, having a beer, and they'll say, 'Oh wow, you drive the Zamboni?' "

A worker walked over. Reynolds smiled. "This is Lisa, our Zamboni groupie," he said.

Frank Reynolds is the senior laborer at the Garden, with 26 years. He heads a crew that includes Jack Durkin, 30, of Long Island, the other Zamboni driver, and Wilfred "Woody" Boudreaux, 64, a transplant from New Orleans.

Groupies? Maybe not. But there's no question the Zamboni Ice Resurfacer commands a special fascination. When was the last time you heard baseball fans rhapsodizing over a bullpen car? The Zamboni's lure is partly its funny name, but mostly it's the blocky contraption itself, the way it chugs along, instant purity in its wake, a gleaming makeover in 12 minutes.

The machine was invented by Frank Zamboni, who died earlier this year. Powered by a four-cylinder Volkswagen engine, it has a 7-foot blade that cuts off the top layer of the ice. Fresh, scalding water -- about 25 gallons for each resurfacing -- streams onto the ice surface, which is kept at 16 degrees. Another tank of water fills deeper ruts and cracks.

Reynolds and Durkin, who alternate games, follow the pattern set by their revered predecessor, the late Joe Crotty, the Garden's first (and only) Zamboni driver until he fell ill a few years ago. Starting on one side of the rink, they head toward the other, making a complete circle around the boards, followed by a pass up the middle.

When he's done, the driver dumps the old ice into a big trough. The hot-water tank gets topped off, and the ice crew retires to a cluttered little room with cinder-block walls and a vinyl couch. On the wall is a picture of Crotty, two Peanuts cartoons about Zambonis and a letter from Rangers vice president Neil Smith. It's addressed to Mike Chaykowsky, the Garden's operations manager. Smith expresses his appreciation and thanks for "the drastic improvement in the ice quality this season."

Durkin said: "You feel good about it. You don't get that many pats on the back."

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