Zamboni driver a fan favorite at hockey games
The first intermission has commenced at a Greenville Swamp Rabbits game, but the enthusiasm from the fans hasn’t waned. On the contrary, some fans descend to the rink’s boards, anticipating a regular but nonetheless fascinating occurrence. Entering the ice just then is a box-like, ice-resurfacing vehicle capable of attaining speeds of approximately six miles per hour. Atop the machine is 65-year-old Richard Chumley, a fan favorite and a man essential for hockey to take place at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Chumley, a Greer resident, has been making the rounds on the arena’s Zamboni for decades, tending to the ice even through the Grrrowl years. Prior to that, Chumley worked at the Pavilion.
“My daughter (Holly) was a figure skater,” he said. “They asked would I drive there, and I said, ‘Yeah, I could drive.’ So they had a class, and I learned to drive, and I’ve been driving ever since.”
He says that first year of driving was either in 1990 or 1991. Needless to say, he’s seen a lot of games, which is good since he’s a hockey fan, calling the New York Rangers his favorite National Hockey League Team. Locally, though, there’s no question. His loyalties lie with the Swamp Rabbits. Still, while the hockey is the draw, the way the children flock to the glass to wave at Chumley, you might think he was the main attraction.
“Everybody likes me because everybody gets to be recognized when I go around the walls,” he said. “All the kids come down to the wall. Even the older people do the same thing.”
Chumley has advice for those who do sit behind the glass: pick up your beer when he glides past. Coming around the turns next to the boards, he says unintentionally he may bump the boards.
“One year these two guys had the beers sitting on the wall and so they had the beers in their lap,” he laughed. “Not my fault!”
While those two gentlemen may not have been paying attention, most people do when Chumley takes the ice. This is particularly the case around Christmas-time, when the driver has been known to don a Santa suit, at the delight of all the children. He will wave at them as he passes, but the reality is Chumley has an odd, but important job.
On game day, he tends to the ice following practice, during intermissions and at the conclusion of the contest. He says the average time for working the ice used to be about six minutes, but that was when the machine could do nine miles per hour. After 16 to 18 years and some mechanical work here and there, the process takes more like 10 to 11 minutes. While hockey enthusiasts are taking bathroom or refreshment breaks, that’s when Chumley takes the ice.
It’s not only during Swamp Rabbits games, though, that he works his magic on the ice. He’s worked during figure skating events and Disney on Ice and even during a couple of NHL exhibitions. Actually, he says the first time he ever managed the ice was during one of those exhibitions during a Sept. 26, 1998 game between the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers. While he’d been driving at the Pavilion for a number of years at that point, it’s during games like that preseason match when he says few are fit for driving a Zamboni.
“Everybody wants to drive, but when you get out there with all the pressure, with all the people watching and all, it’s a lot different,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, though. I thoroughly enjoy it.”
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