For Zamboni operator Robert Drummond, cleaning the ice between periods at Golden Rockets games is almost like taking a coffee break.
It’s become second nature to him, having operated a Zamboni since 1981.
“I do it without thinking now,” said Drummond. “I enjoy doing the games. Other people get nervous, but I enjoy the notoriety that comes with it.”
Drummond has become a fan favourite with the crowds that pack the Plywood Palace during the Rockets season and is known for his antics between periods, performing for the crowd while he cleans the ice.
“I love to perform, I’m also a clown on the side,” said Drummond.
“I’m an entertainer at heart. You spend $10 on the game and a half-hour of that is spent watching me clean the ice. I want to make sure they get their money’s worth.”
His career as a performer started in 1986 when a group of friends offered him a ticket to the Grey Cup parade in Montreal if he could learn to ride a unicycle. He has since performed as a clown in his free time and sometimes busts out the suit while he drives the Zamboni, for special occasions like the playoffs.
It’s not uncommon to see him waving to the fans, blowing kisses to the Australians in the first row with their hands pressed against the glass.
Drummond will stand up, salute, kick his legs, or do anything to get a rise out of the crowd. For him, it’s just another day at the office.
It was during one of his stunts between periods while working in Swift Current, Sask., at his first gig as a Zamboni operator, which led him to his future wife. Outfitted in a luxurious tuxedo from a local store, he proceeded to clean the ice with class, when he caught the eye of a young lady in the crowd.
“I was in a tuxedo, and my wife was at a Swift Current Broncos game with her brother,” said Drummond.
“She saw me on the Zamboni looking sharp and she turned to her brother and said, ‘I’m gonna marry that guy.’”
Drummond first became a Zamboni operator after working as a lifeguard for the town of Swift Current.
There, Drummond was on a much bigger stage than he is in Golden, as he maintained the ice for the Broncos, a Western Hockey League team which attracts 5,000 fans to each game.
It was in Swift Current that Drummond was able to work with future hockey greats such as Joe Sakic, who he used to allow extra ice time so the future NHL star could get in additional practice.
“You could almost charge admission just to watch him practice,” said Drummond. “He was by far the best person off the ice and on the ice. He treated me with respect I think because he knew if he was nice to the Zamboni driver he could benefit.”
One of the highlights of Drummond’s Zamboni driving career came in Swift Current when the team won the 1989 Memorial Cup.
Clearing the ice during the playoffs and experiencing the team’s championship run with an uncle as an assistant coach and two cousins on the roster, Drummond said he felt like he was a part of the team when they claimed the trophy.
On the other side, Drummond also experienced some of the worst of times in Swift Current. He had a cousin die in the 1986 bus crash that killed four members of the Broncos team, and had to work in the rink with Graham James, a former coach who was convicted of sexually abusing his players while with the Broncos.
Despite his experience and qualifications, Drummond wasn’t hired as the Zamboni driver for the town until 11 years ago. After almost 40 years on the job, Drummond still enjoys what he does and loves the joy he brings the kids and the fans.
“It’s amazing how kids are just obsessed with you at this job, all it takes is a little wave and acknowledgement and they just go nuts,” said Drummond. “The Aussies are always so much fun, and when the team makes the playoffs, you feel like you’re there with them.”
While the Rockets may be done for the season, Drummond has already promised to break out the clown suit if the team makes the playoffs next year.
Drummond figures he’s got at least five more seasons left in him before he hangs up his keys for good.