Invented by rink owner Frank Zamboni, the ice-clearing machine celebrates its 70th anniversary this year
The Ice Capades were in Boston on New Year’s Day 1954. That evening, the Boston Bruins were also scheduled to play in Boston Garden. The maintenance crew was dreading clearing the ice in just a few hours in preparation for the NHL game against the New York Rangers.
It was a laborious process, requiring shovels, brooms, squeegees and pushing small handheld plows around to clean the surface. It worked—sort of—but the ice usually had an uneven finish and tended to be bumpy, which could cause the puck to bounce in unexpected ways and skaters to lose their balance.
Fortunately, Bob Skrak was working for the Ice Capades that day. He operated a new piece of equipment that smoothed the ice for the figure skaters so it was as clear as if fresh made. Bruins management immediately took notice and ordered a unit. It was delivered to the team in the fall.
That fabled piece of equipment—Zamboni Model E21, the first to be used by an NHL team—was a game-changer. It was driven around Boston Garden for years by Lelo Grasso, who would deftly tip his trademark fedora to the crowd as he circled the ice. In 1988, when the Boston Bruins ordered a new machine, it sent Model E21 back to the Zamboni manufacturing plant in Paramount, California, to be restored. It is now in the collection of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada.