If you’ve ever attended a hockey game, or been in an ice rink, chances are you’ve seen a zamboni. The giant ice resurfacing machines leave behind a pristine sheet of ice during the chaos of a hockey game.
The Kelowna Rockets home, Prospera Place, currently employs four full-time and two part-time zamboni drivers. Though none are quite as infamous among Rockets fans as Michael ‘Fish’ Topolniski.
“Fish,” as he’s known to fans, has been driving a zamboni for almost 20 years. “I started working here in 1999. A co-worker was working (at Prospera) and I immediately wanted to drive it so I learned at night on my own.”
Learning to operate the giant machine had its difficulties though. Topolniski said the most difficult part of learning to handle the zamboni was “judging distance and speed going into a turn. Everyone hits the boards when they start and it was a big learning curve.”
The top speed for a zamboni isn’t as fast as you might assume — top speed is only around 10 kilometers an hour. While one might think the giant machines would be easy to drive due to their slow speed, Topolniski said they are a lot more difficult than people assume.
“They’re not easy to drive at all. Because they’re so slow, people think they’re easy but they slide all over. If you’re not careful you can easily do fishtails and slide into the boards,” he said.
After nearly two decades of driving a zamboni, Topolniski said he’s not easily distracted anymore.
“I’ve been doing this long enough that I can stare and wave at the crowd and the kids as I drive without a problem,” he said. “When I drove during Rockets; games I used to have my own fan section that would cheer for me.”
Having your own cheering section is pretty cool and since beginning at Prospera Place in 1999, Topolniski has not missed a single Rockets game, so he’s seen a lot of Rockets history.
“I have two,” Topolniski replied when asked about his most memorable moments with the Rockets.
“I drank out of the Memorial Cup when we won it in 2004,” says Fish.
The second was helping Tyrell Goulbourne when the Rockets won the Western conference final over the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015.
“We won the Western conference final and I got to carry Goulbourne to the centre to celebrate with the rest of team,” he said. Goulbourne was sidelined during game five of the Western Conference Finals after suffering a cut calf muscle.
Some people might think driving a Zamboni is just a job, but for Topolniski. it’s a lot more than that.
“I love it, it’s my home.”