By Troy Bishopp
Hamilton, N.Y. – At the crack of dawn, on a frosty February morn, many farmers tend to livestock in the comfort of a barn. For Madison County native and farm boy, Bruce Weaver, the pre-dawn routine means heading to Colgate University’s Starr Rink and tending to a crack of a different sort. As the hockey rink vernacular goes, the Ice Doctor is in.
Bruce is part of an employee coalition of 20 groundskeepers and facilities personnel trained to make and maintain the 85’ x 200’ frozen slab in the Campus’s iconic 2,600-seat hockey rink named for John Howard Starr, coach of the hockey team from 1936 to 1950, and home to the Division 1 Colgate University Raiders men’s and women’s ice hockey teams.
Monikers for Weaver’s craft range from “rink rats to ice wizards and frozen aqua engineers.” This cold job deserves some serious reverence because it’s not as easy as shoveling off a pond and lacing them up. Weaver, who is a five year veteran groomer of the ice, got his start from apprenticing with Colgate’s Bill Northy. “There’s a progression of learning from studying a manual (Yep, there’s an ice-making O&M) to walking the surface noticing the subtleties of the surface and finally operating the Zamboni to make game ice. Practice makes perfect and I’ve had a lot of it” says Weaver.
The intricate coils of piping and refrigerant within the slab of concrete, allows the facility to make ice, even in June. Bruce likes his ice about an inch thick and uses infrared technology to monitor zones from end to end to assure a quality, level playing surface. This is where his friend, “The Zamboni” tractor comes in to help him make smooth ice and also maintain it.
Much like a field combine, the Zamboni (named after inventor and ice-maker, Frank Zamboni) has a seriously sharp 10 degree blade that scrapes the ice surface into a series of auger flights depositing the shavings into a hopper. Depending on the surface and practice schedule of the day, the Zamboni’s cold water system is used to fill cracks and make new ice while the 140 degree water and rear mop squeegee is used to seal the surface and give it the nice shiny sheen skaters look forward to.
Weaver and his fellow ice-whisperers have a robust daily schedule from 6am to nearly midnight after some big games. “We do ice making and maintenance usually before 9am and then the hockey practice sessions, figure skating and individual coaching happen almost every couple of hours. This means we are resurfacing the ice several times per day for 10 minutes around the rink”, said Weaver.
The Zamboni-ists all have a different style and driving strategy on how they navigate the slippery slab. “We are all ambassadors for Colgate sports and some even wear tuxedos and are showmen for the fans between periods”, commented Weaver. The ice doctors also maintain the boards and plexi-glass from all the pucks and body checking. They work with referees on the goal netting and crease placement and ice issues during a game.
You might say the hockey rink is a labor of love because Weaver gets to regularly eat lunch with his wife, Ashley, whose office is around the corner within the Reid Athletic Complex. “Hockey is our game,” says the diehard New York Ranger’s couple. This passion for the ice is also extending to their young son, Jack who is practicing his slap-shot on the kitchen floor and becoming a fixture at most local sporting events with his parents and grandparents.
Bruce is fulfilling a legacy to steward the hallowed ground that Coach “Howie” Starr championed during his 15 year hockey career and 40 year member of the Colgate University faculty. The rink seated within the Reid Athletic Center is on its farewell tour of ice operation giving way to a new adjacent Class of 1965 arena and athletics facility, opening in October 2016.
Weaver concedes there are a lot of good hockey memories and traditions within the arched walls but he sees exciting opportunities at the new facility too. “It will be great for the next generations of student-athletes and the community. I’m excited to be part of the Colgate University family that supports this vision for the future.”
Published for Lee Publications in Country Folks and The Editor