To be a great Zamboni driver, you’ve got to love the rink.
You’ve also got to love the finished product — perfect ice, or as close to perfect as possible.
“I like to make that sheet of glass. There’s only one thing I like better and that’s skating on that sheet of glass,” says Kevin Bushey, Yost Ice Arena facilities supervisor — or as he prefers, The Minister of Ice Operations and Skating, and Hockey Learning Instructor.
Bushey, in his maize and blue University of Michigan hat and shirt, loves all things tied to U-M hockey, ice resurfacing and the machines that make it happen.
Not all are Zambonis. There are Olympia, Ice Cat and other ice resurfacers. But U-M’s two ice -resurfacing machines are Zambonis, the top brand.
People ask if they can ride the Zamboni. Bushey says rides are allowed when groups rent Yost for a birthday party or other occasion, and always during hockey games.
“We are here to provide a service for our varsity program and our customers. We have a lot of fun working here but when it comes to our product we’re very serious about it,” he says.
Bushey says his commitment to excellence is inspired by the U-M hockey team led by Red Berenson, Yost staff and the athletic department.
“They are the greatest in their craft as I hope to be great in my craft. I feel like I’m flourishing because I’m surrounded by a great team; great people who know what they’re doing and they do it well. That’s what makes coming to work every day a pleasure,” he says.
As a boy in Detroit, Bushey learned how to skate on the Palmer Park pond. After his family moved to Royal Oak, the son of his daycare provider set up a hockey goal on the backyard patio, built of 2-by-4s and chain link fence.
“He’d put goalie gear on you and shoot tennis balls and I loved it,” Bushey recalls.
But pucks are harder than tennis balls. When he began playing organized hockey, he chose to play the position of forward. He still plays today.
Bushey attended classes at Wayne State University. One day, he left his name and number at Yost Ice Arena, hoping to get some part-time work. “They called me. It was a Learn to Skate substitute position,” he says.
He established his own youth class and eventually instructed adults. He continues to lead an adult hockey program Wednesday and Friday mornings during winter months at 6 a.m. Attendees have ranged in age from 19 to 50 years old. He also coaches hockey in a youth development program.
Steve Knuble, whose brother Mike played with the Wolverines and several NHL teams, taught him how to drive and operate the Zamboni.
“Steve was very patient and he was a very good teacher. He shared these nuances: ‘Make sure you turn your water off here, don’t make sudden movements,'” says Bushey, now head ice resurfacer.
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Beyond carefully steering the machine on ice, other operations include conditioning, scraping and sponging the ice. The driver uses both hands to steer and operate controls.
“We’re trying to make sure we create a smooth surface by shaving the ice enough to cut out the marks the scratches, cracks and ruts and fill them with water, but not fill our snow bucket beyond capacity. The greatest thing about ice resurfacing is you can become one with your machine and feel the surface that you are creating,” he says.
Even on days off, Bushey brings daughter Stephanie, 9, and son Patrick, 7, to Yost to skate during public skating periods.
“I really do spend a huge portion of my life here.” He also coaches his son’s Livonia Rangers mite hockey team.