Part fuel drum, part barbecue, and all heart: Yellowknife’s Houseboat Bay hockey rink has its own homemade Zamboni. Its creators say the device makes the smoothest ice in the city.
Tom McLennan, a pilot for the NWT’s Ahmic Air, is one of the machine’s co-creators. He says it began as a joke with his boss, Steve.
“Lo and behold, one day he sort-of had a design and sent me out to grab some parts,” McLennan says.
“We acquired the parts, put it together, and there we go. It’s worked pretty well.”
The ice resurfacer itself – Zamboni is a brand name and, for the avoidance of doubt, this one is definitely not an actual Zamboni – is an old fuel drum that sits atop a wagon frame.
A barbecue burner attached to the bottom keeps the water warm. Water moves down through a hose then is spread across the ice with a towel as the contraption is pulled across the rink.
According to McLennan, finding the proper flooding technique took a few tries.
“There was some controversy last year as people flooded it with cold water,” he explains, “and if you do it too thick, and then you skate on it, it just crunches and shatters and it takes a long time to rebuild from scratch.
“The T where the water comes out, I’ve added more holes this week, so we’ll see if that helps. It’s always a bit of trial and error.”
Houseboat Bay is far from the only backyard rink in town – and some of the others have their own Zambonis, too.
McLennan isn’t overly concerned by the competition.
“I know Range Lake has got a bunch of rinks, Rat Lake has got a nice rink as well – but look at this setting,” he jokes. “Look at this ice. I don’t think you can beat that.”
Alongside some friendly competition, the Houseboat Bay rink offers a sense of community and camaraderie, McLennan says.
“When I first moved to town, I remember getting an invite to come down and play some games here,” he says.
“It was really good to start meeting people. We have an awesome crew of dedicated guys who come out every time, and it’s just a blast.
“I think we all love pond hockey, and the spirit of Yellowknife… there was some ice fog a couple weeks ago, the sun coming through. It’s just a pretty epic feeling.”
The Houseboat Bay crew is aiming to get the ice in shape for a possible pond hockey tournament in March, when the weather is warmer.
The ice is open to anyone who wants to lace up their skates. McLennan encouraged families and skaters of all skill levels to come out.
To Yellowknife’s other rinks, he issued a simple challenge.
“This is clearly the best ice in town – prove us wrong. Come down, we’ll play any time. Bring it on.”