If you’ve ever attended a hockey game, or been in an ice rink, chances are you’ve seen a Zamboni. The giant ice resurfacing machines leave behind a pristine sheet of ice during the chaos of a hockey game. The Kelowna Rockets home, Prospera Place, currently employs four full-time and two part-time Zamboni drivers. Though none are quite as infamous among Rockets fans as Michael ‘Fish’ Topolniski.
Fish, as he’s known to fans, has been driving a Zamboni for almost twenty years. “I started working here in 1999. A co-worker was working (at Prospera) and I immediately wanted to drive it so I learned at night on my own.”
Learning to drive the giant machine had its difficulties though. Fish says the most difficult part of learning to handle the Zamboni for him was “judging distance and speed going into a turn. Everyone hits the boards when they start and it was a big learning curve.”
The top speed for a Zamboni isn’t as fast as you might assume, top speed is only around 10 kilometers an hour. While one might think the giant machines would be easy to drive due to their slow speed, Fish says they’re a lot more difficult than people assume. “They’re not easy to drive at all. Because they’re so slow people think they’re easy but they slide all over. If you’re not careful you can easily do fishtails and slide into the boards,” says Fish.
After nearly two decades of driving a Zamboni, Fish says he’s not easily distracted anymore. “I’ve been doing this long enough that I can stare and wave at the crowd and the kids as I drive without a problem,” says Fish. “When I drove during Rockets games I used to have my own fan section that would cheer for me.”
Having your own cheering section is pretty cool and since beginning at Prospera Place in 1999, Fish has not missed a single Rockets game, so he’s seen a lot of Rockets history. “I have two,” Fish says when asked about his most memorable moments with the Rockets. “I drank out of the Memorial Cup when we won it in 2004,” says Fish.
The second was helping Tyrell Goulbourne when the Rockets won the Western Conference Final over the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2015. “We won the Western Conference Final and I got to carry Goulbourne to the centre to celebrate with the rest of team,” says Fish. Goulbourne was sidelined during game five of the Western Conference Finals after suffering a cut calf muscle.
Some people might think driving a Zamboni is just a job, but for Fish it’s a lot more than that. “I love it, it’s my home.”