Vail man goes from tending ice in Vail to Olympic stage
What does a Zamboni do?
According to a 2013 story from WCCO, the CBS TV affiliate in Minneapolis (a place where they know something about ice), a Zamboni does a few things:
• It scrapes the surface down by 1/32nd of an inch with a razor-sharp blade.
• Gunk from the surface is put into a dump box on the front of the Zamboni.
• Out the back, the machine shoots out hot water — 150 to 160 degrees, which makes better ice.
• Dirty ice is squeegeed up before another spray of water. That creates a new, smooth surface.
VAIL — Olympic dreams aren’t just for athletes. Jared Biniecki lived his own Olympic dream this year, tending the ice surfaces for the Olympic hockey tournament.
Biniecki, the director of Dobson Ice Arena, was part of an American crew that went to Pyeongchang, South Korea. He landed the job through his own talents, of course, but also because of a longtime association with Don Moffat, who led the U.S. ice-tending crew.
Biniecki met Moffat several years ago at a class on painting ice surfaces — what gets painted is actually a couple of centimeters below the surface used by skaters.
Moffat painted the Dobson ice surface black for a figure-skating event in Vail in September 2017. He and Biniecki talked, and Moffat asked if Biniecki might be able to get away for a few weeks in February of this year — the Winter Olympics.
At the time, the idea of going to South Korea was a “pipe dream,” Biniecki said. Still, he started counting up his available vacation hours.
Moffat called with an offer on Halloween, and Biniecki immediately did what most married men would do: He called his wife, Kimberly.
“She said ‘you have to go — when can you do this again?’” he said. A co-worker told him the same thing.
Off to Asia
So the trip was set. The pay was OK, Biniecki said. But the U.S. Olympic Team paid for his travel, lodging and meals in a cafeteria.
Still, the adventure and the work were the main goal. After a couple of days fighting jet lag, Biniecki and the rest of the crew got to work — at the main hockey center, where he helped maintain the ice on the rink and at an adjacent practice facility.
There was a lot of Zamboni driving, of course — that’s why he took the trip. But there was also a lot more.
There were goal nets to be cleaned and arena glass to keep clear. Then there was learning to drive a brand-new model of Zamboni. That took some adjustment. So did learning to drive in a two-Zamboni tandem.
Biniecki worked six games, including the United States and Russia game on the men’s side and the women’s semifinal game between the United States and Finland. He also worked a game between the United States and Czech Republic that ended in a shootout.
The shootout was particularly tense. Cleaning an ice surface for a shootout is different than resurfacing a rink between periods. Shootout prep is ice-shaving only — no quickly frozen water is laid down.
“You’ve got one shot at it, and everybody’s watching,” he said.
That watching can get intense. A crazy bounce off the boards during a game can lead to a conversation with International Hockey Federation officials.
Players will sometimes take off a glove and feel the ice during a shootout. A player who blames the ice for a puck that goes astray is blaming the guys who maintain the surface.
Leaving, bringing knowledge
But it all went well, on and off the ice.
Off the ice, the ice crews were also working with South Korean crews. There’s no real tradition of hockey in South Korea, so there isn’t a depth of knowledge about maintaining ice surfaces.
That could be a little awkward — the Americans didn’t speak Korean and the Koreans didn’t really speak English.
But that barrier broke down when Biniecki ran into Mike Testwuide, a longtime friend who was skating for the Korean national team.
“He came over and gave me a hug, and my Korean co-workers came over saying ‘Your friend! Your friend!’” he said.
With that bond forged, it was hard to say goodbye to the new friends Biniecki made in Pyeongchang. In fact, the American crew was on the way to the airport just moments after the men’s gold medal game.
Biniecki made it home at 7 p.m. and was back at work the next day. It was hard to get used to being in yet another time zone, “but it wasn’t too, too bad,” he said.
Back in Vail for the past few weeks, Biniecki said he’s learned a lot and has brought some ideas back to his home ice surface.
Cleaning goal frames and glass is important — it just presents better to both spectators and athletes.
Besides some specifics, working on a world stage has brought Biniecki a renewed sense of purpose in Vail.
Wanting to be great in South Korea has Biniecki determined to make Dobson a better place for skaters.
“There’s multiple things we can do with very little extra effort,” he said. “We can do our best to make it as perfect as possible — there’s always room for improvement.”
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