NHL players may not have come to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, but that doesn’t mean that the NHL is completely without a presence at the games. Seven Zamboni drivers, who are responsible for maintaining the smoothness and consistency of the ice surface, will be working the Olympics this year.
This wasn’t an expected outcome: Korean officials initially believed that their in-house staff would be able to service the ice during the games. However, it became clear as the Olympics were set to begin, they realized that they were in over their heads and needed to turn to the ultimate pros.
Part of the problem is that ice skating isn’t a hugely popular sport in Korea, meaning that their experience in maintaining ice surfaces hasn’t been tested on a large stage in the past. Now, with the world’s eyes on Pyeongchang for the 2018 Olympics, officials began to worry that their preparations weren’t sufficient to make sure that athletes were competing on world-class ice surfaces.
Enter the NHL, and their cadre of Zamboni drivers. The Zamboni is a beloved staple of any hockey game, the large machine smoothing and regulating the ice surface before the game and during period breaks. And the people who drive the Zambonis are masters of their craft.
While it may seem simple, the art of Zamboni driving is anything but, with drivers leaning on decades of experience to control many factors in creating the perfect ice service. As the largest and richest ice-based sport in the world, the NHL naturally has the cream of the crop when it comes to Zamboni drivers.
Now, seven of these drivers have made their way to Korea to assist in making sure the Olympics ice is up to the highest of standards. The NHL athletes may not be competing for gold, but the NHL is still participating in some small form in the games nevertheless.