One last run on the ice

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Bill White’s last turn around the ice was just as sweet as his first. The longtime Zamboni driver retired last Friday, April 13, after nine years of driving the Zamboni at H-E-B Center in Cedar Park.


White, who rose to become building operations manager at the home of the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars, started his last day at work the same as he has every day for several years —  by doing a routine check of the refrigeration units that keep the playing surface frozen for ten months out of the year.


For all his love of the job he’s held for so long, White never actually intended to drive the Zamboni here in Cedar Park.


He learned to drive a Zamboni at the Ice Capades Chalet in Santa Monica, California, years before moving to Central Texas.


“Not the usual place one would think of learning about keeping ice rinks smooth,” hel said. “I wandered in one day looking for a job and I learned a skill.”  


That skill would prove particularly valuable when he eventually moved to Cedar Park after his first ‘retirement.’  


Before moving here, White learned to work behind a camera and became an in-house videographer for Playboy Enterprises, working for the company for 23 years in California before deciding to retire and move to Cedar Park.


It was his experience with photography and videography that White thought would get him a job.


“I was watching the construction and thought I could get a job there when it opened,” said White. “I used to hang out with the builders. When I found out that the owners were accepting job applications, I applied as a camera operator. The form had a section that asked if you had other skills or interests, and I wrote that ‘I can drive a Zamboni.’”


According to Bill, the response to his application was swift.


“We can find lots of camera operators in this area but there aren’t a whole lot of Zamboni operators,” White remembers being told.


He was hired as an ice crew member on the spot. In the beginning there were two drivers reporting to an operations manager and the a director of operations. White was initially put to work driving the Zamboni at night.


The machine, which operates by first washing the ice, then shaving it and leaving behind a layer of water that adds a fresh layer to the top of the skating surface, is crucial to the operation of a hockey facility.


After a short period, White was allowed to drive the Zamboni during hockey games.


“At first it was nerve-wracking to drive during games because you have eyes on you and you have to pretend that it doesn’t bother you,” said White. “When you realize you’re being watched, if you happen to catch someone’s eye, you might wind up veering off course. One night there was (a fan) jumping up and down banging on the glass and sure enough I looked over for a brief second and wound up leaving a 3 foot long section of white.”


After four years, he was promoted to operations manager and took on several additional responsibilities.


A major part of those additional job responsibilities included maintenance of the system that circulates an ammonia-based mixture through a series of refrigeration tubes set underneath the concrete floor of the building. It’s this system that keeps the ice frozen throughout games and even when the complex holds any one of hundreds of other events each year.


Despite the long playing season for the H-E-B Center’s resident hockey team, the facility also hosts other professional, collegiate and amateur sporting events, including playing host to the recently-crowned NBA G-League champion Austin Spurs. The H-E-B Center also hosts a number of concerts and family entertainment events throughout the year.


White said the Stars’ ice playing surface is covered by a temporary floor when the center hosts basketball games or other events.


After his refrigeration system check, White would perform maintenance check of the facility’s Zamboni ice resurfacing machines.


Finally, with the doors scheduled to open in a matter of a few short hours, it would be time to climb aboard the (7 ft tall and 13 ft long) propane-powered machine.


A Zamboni driver resurfaces the ice before the start of a game and then again between each period of play. It’s the part of the job any driver lives for.


“The Zamboni is my favorite part,” said White.


While Wednesday may have been his last day as a Zamboni driver, his departure paves the way for another person to step into the role and perhaps enjoy the job as much as White did in his nine years at the facility.


With a second retirement and fond memories in his head, White made his last pass around the ice late Wednesday night after the Stars beat the Grand Rapids Griffins in overtime. It was just as sweet as the first pass so many years before.


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