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Most people at Agganis Arena are there to watch a top Division I ice hockey team, but Mike Cunniff is scrutinizing something else. The Zamboni driver—whose official title is “ice technician”—scans the frozen surface of the rink for problem areas. He’ll fix any during the next break.
“This is where I watch the games,” Cunniff says, standing just behind the boards near the Agganis loading dock on a recent quiet morning. “I’m looking at the ice. If I see a bad bounce, I know I need to take care of that spot more. If the ice gets a little soft, I’ll fix it. Sometimes there’s more action on one side of the ice, so that ice will be more chewed up.”
Cunniff started working for BU’s Facilities Management & Planning team 25 years ago as a truck driver, largely to get the employee tuition remission benefit for his son and daughter, who ended up attending college elsewhere. Walter Brown Arena needed a Zamboni driver, so he learned how to operate the huge machine. When Agganis Arena opened in 2005, Cunniff quit the Zamboni and returned to driving trucks for the University. Longtime BU head ice hockey coach Jack Parker (Questrom’68, Hon.’97) noticed a difference in the ice quality, and asked that Cunniff return.
Cunniff arrives at Agganis by 7 a.m. every day and works overtime on game nights. First, he uses an edge machine (he likens it to a lawn mower), to keep the ice low along the boards, where the Zamboni can’t quite reach. Next he powers up the Zamboni. “The Zamboni has a blade and it shaves the ice,” he explains. “Then there’s an auger. When the machine shaves the ice, the auger picks up the shavings and brings them to the middle of the Zamboni, and from there they are taken up and dumped into the bucket. Then the Zamboni lays a new sheet of ice down.”
When he’s done, Cunniff will walk out on the rink with a drill to measure the ice. The optimal thickness for a hard, slick surface is one inch, but the job gets complicated because the ice fluctuates with air temperature. During a busy day, he might run the Zamboni over the rink five times. When the ice is removed in April, Cunniff switches to driving a forklift, helping out with many of the concerts and shows that come into Agganis.
“I take pride in the job for sure,” he says. “It’s more than just driving around the ice on a Zamboni. It’s the preparation that goes into it and makes the ice better.”
Jason Kimball can be reached at email@example.com.