Zamboni driver makes Hockey Day go over smoothly

Picture this: the game stops, the teams file into their respective locker rooms, a large door opens and reveals the star of any hockey game: the Zamboni. 

Crucial to any healthy ice rink, the Zamboni functions to resurface the ice. It does so by scraping excess snow that arises from cuts in the ice from the skates. Then, it flushes out any dirt with water which is then collected back up. Finally, the Zamboni leaves a thin layer of heated water in order to leave the ice smooth. 

With Hockey Day Minnesota hosting hockey games almost non-stop last week in Mankato, there was an immense need to keep the ice smooth for the players. Enter Dan Rickbeil. 

Rickbeil, the head athletics equipment manager at Minnesota State University, Mankato, is no stranger to driving Zambonis. 

“I actually started driving Zamboni almost 30 years ago,” said Rickbeil.

Rickbeil recounts his childhood memories of spending long hours at the hockey rink in his hometown.

“I was the kid who was always running around the rink,” said Rickbeil, “I was the rink rat.”

At this young age, Rickbeil started doing odd jobs around the rink, such as collecting the garbages for a quarter or mopping the floors. Eventually, this led to him riding along on the Zamboni, dumping snow out. 

While this did get the driver and himself in trouble, it may have foreshadowed his life behind the wheel. 

By the time he entered high school Rickbeil properly started working at the rink and was driving the Zamboni consistently.

While in college at MSU, Rickbeil continued to drive Zamboni while working at the All Seasons Arena. Following graduation at MSU Rickbeil moved away from Mankato for some time, but the charm of the city drew him back and he began working as an equipment manager at the All Seasons Arena. 

Now, working as the equipment manager for MSU athletics, Rickbeil was ecstatic to offer his services when he heard Hockey Day was coming to Mankato.

“As soon as I knew we were having Hockey Day, I said ‘Hey, I am interested,’” said Rickbeil, “You don’t have to pay me, just give my family some passes to get in, that is all I ask.”

While Zamboni driving looks simple, Rickbeil notes that drivers often make it look easier than it is. 

“There is a skill to it,” said Rickbeil, “there is a science to the ice, and knowing how cold the ice is, how hot your water is, and how quickly you need it to freeze.”

With everyone watching in between each period, making sure every spot of the ice gets covered is sometimes a daunting task. 

“Everybody knows when the Zamboni driver misses a spot,” said Rickbeil, “The crowd is going to let that driver know when they missed a spot.”

In the case of this event happening, Rickbeil raises one finger to the sky and calls it a “victory lap” to cover the missed ice. 

While being extremely experienced with Zamboni driving, Rickbeil still is learning about how to best tend to the ice with the machine. 
“To be honest with you,” said Rickbeil, “I’ve learned a lot this week from the Arena Warehouse guys and girls.”

Rickbeil, who frequently runs the Zamboni at the Mankato Civic Center for MSU games, finds the stakes to be higher with the larger crowd. 

“Driving for a Maverick game, there is more pressure. You’ve got 5,000 people in that arena,” said Rickbeil, “and if they aren’t out getting a beer, their eyes are on you.”
Even after 30 years of driving the Zamboni, Rickbeil understands and appreciates the fact that few people get to drive those machines.

“Just like that Gear Daddies song said, ‘I wanna drive the Zamboni’,” said Rickbeil.

Header Photo: Dan Rickbeil is the head equipment manager for Maverick athletics, but he has also been driving the Zamboni for over 30 years. (Mansoor Ahmad/The Reporter)

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