Stalled engine kills Zamboni dream in Chelsea, Quebec


by admin on August 25, 2010

The dream began to slip away 14 months ago, when the Yes faction narrowly squeaked past the Negatories in the Chelsea, Quebec Referendum of 2009.

The result didn’t signal a great victory for the pro side in the voting on a borrowing bylaw to provide $2.6 million in taxpayer money for the construction of the multipurpose Meredith Centre. Rather, the tally – a disappointingly divisive 53-47 per cent – was a disturbing wake-up call.
The stars were aligning before the vote. The arena in the proposed three-part complex would need an energetic type to steer the machine that transfixes those who worship in the hallowed ice palaces that define Canada.

We are a hockey-playing people – and a discerning one in terms of ice preparation. While the hockey Moms at the rink check out the Zamboni drivers’ tight butts, the hockey Dads gleefully point out the snowy patches and the watery ponds the size of Lake Erie the machine leaves in its wake.

But half of Chelsea said No to the complex and stalled the drive to operate the Zamboni. The decision a month ago to chop the arena from the three-venue footprint because of budgetary constraints killed the engine. Ice rentals was to be the cash cow.

The union formed last year – the International Brotherhood of Zamboni Drivers – has been mothballed, and members of Local 409, so designated to commemorate the citizens who signed the registry to force the referendum, have been told to find work elsewhere.

Never mind the union numbers but two: I’m the operations manager and Snoopy, the Peanuts cartoon-strip character drawn by the late hockey freak, Charles Schultz, is an honorary spare driver – if only on the large souvenir lapel pin that adorns my union T-shirt.

There was a plan to conscript countryman Antti Niemi, the Chicago Blackhawks goaltender who won a Stanley Cup last year, and sign him to a IBZD card, were he to visit Scotiabank Place to face the Senators this season. When Niemi played Division 2 hockey in Finland, he couldn’t subsist on his hockey pay, so he drove the Zamboni for extra cash. Plans to hand him a T-shirt at a future morning skate have been shelved.

But maybe, just maybe, the dream has a life. Angered by the decision to cut the rink, Chelsea garage-league foundation members have rushed to cobble together alternatives – some costing half of what had been projected.

What tasteful appointments they include in their business plans are most likely based on arena operations at Low, Masham and Val-des-Monts. But if the late rush forces decision-makers to revise their thinking, then great. It’s business.

Traditionally, when union and management are mentioned in one breath, it immediately evokes confrontation. Not so in the case of Local 409. If the dream can be jump-started with a revamped business plan, the IBZD will make this offer: To help cut operating costs, we will launder our own uniforms.

Not only would it save money, it would promote domestic bliss. My wife is territorial and the idea of someone else getting into my pants cuts no ice with her.