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Driven to Improve Ice, Coyotes Go Big -- Twice

Two new Zamboni machines reflect team's commitment to quality

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Zamboni machines No. 12,660 and 12,661 arrived at Gila River Arena in February, the newest ice resurfacers in an NHL building.

The "Model 546" Zamboni machines underscore the Coyotes' emphasis on improved ice conditions in their home rink. 

That focus doesn't come cheap. Think two Maseratis. 

And not base models, either. "They loaded these up," said Doug Peters, regional Zamboni sales manager.

First, some history.

The first Zamboni machine was produced in Paramount, California, in 1949, by Frank J. Zamboni.

Frank moved to Southern California in 1920 to join his brother's auto repair business. Years later, the two brothers opened an electrical service business, which included installing refrigerator units for the local dairy industry.

The brothers next built a plant to wholesale block ice.

Eventually, came the Zamboni ice resurfacer. And more than 70 years later, machines 12,660 and 12,661 to the Coyotes' corral, from Paramount, California, one of three Zamboni factories. (The other two are based in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, and Österfärnebo, Sweden.)

While technology has vastly improved since the first machine was produced, the same basic principles exist: Zamboni machines wash the ice and shave it. The shavings are collected into a "snow tank." Jets of water flush dirt and debris from the ice and fill grooves created by the skate blades. Finally, the machines leave a wake of fresh, ice-making water. 

This is no simple matter, especially here. After all, building - and maintaining - NHL-quality ice in the desert, is no easy task.

The Coyotes organization has made a critical investment in the aforementioned new Zamboni ice resurfacers, which are dressed in the branding of two long-time team sponsors -- George Brazil Plumbing & Electrical and Fry's Food Stores. The two replace old machines, which had served since Gila River Arena opened in 2003.

Even though the pandemic created economic challenges for the Coyotes, they knew they needed to upgrade the fleet after almost two decades.

Coyotes Owner, Chairman and Governor Alex Meruelo and President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez continue to stress that the team must maintain its focus on investments and resources.

Gutierrez said Meruelo didn't waver when he learned new machines were needed. 

"There is an investment strategy and there is a vision to acquire the resources we need to be a winning organization." Gutierrez said. "To me, the purchase of these high-end machines really underscores that. I see the Zambonis as a physical manifestation of the commitment Alex Meruelo has to improve this organization. 

"It really does take a commitment of resources," Gutierrez continued. "These Zambonis are critical pieces of equipment that really ensure high-quality ice, with the safety of our players being top of mind. I believe Zambonis have, in essence, a functional life of about 12-15 years, and I think we were at 17 years with the old ones. These were badly needed, and Alex Meruelo didn't hesitate to make this purchase. This is just one of the many investments that we are making to take us to the next level as a winning sports franchise." 

NHL Vice President of Facilities Operations Dan Craig and son, Mike, made multiple trips to Gila River Arena during the 2021 season to monitor ice quality. ASM Global, Gila River Arena operators, have hired additional staff dedicated to ice quality. The arena also has funded upgrades to the software programming controlling ice quality.

"We appreciate the NHL providing their top ice folks as we work with the arena management," Gutierrez said. "They see our commitment. Having the best ice and ensuring the safety of our players is a constant focus of ours." 

Gutierrez says the team is further analyzing - and investing in - other aspects to improve ice quality. 

"We are evaluating everything from the ice, to the insulation, refrigeration and technology of the building," Gutierrez said. "Similar to the (old) Zambonis, we have software that really no longer was functional and needed to be upgraded. That software drives the insulation, it drives the refrigeration, it drives a key aspect of making and maintaining high quality ice. 'What's the technology that we need to ensure that the ice was as best as it could be?' We're constantly reviewing everything."

And just why are the Coyotes so zealous about new Zamboni technology?

The new machines are outfitted with the latest features, Peters, regional Zamboni sales manager, said. They feature FastICE technology, which sprays water through a computer-controlled, high-pressure pump for an even and accurate fine mist water application. (Think patio misters, which spray a light mist to cool many Arizona outdoor restaurant seating areas during scorching summer months.) There no longer is a towel dragging behind to apply ice-making water.

The result is a significant savings of time and energy.

The FastICE system is built to create harder, denser ice in higher temperatures. Fewer gasses will trap into the ice surface as a result of the application process, reducing the need for building temperature adjustments. 

The FastICE system is considered an innovative marvel around the league, Zamboni brand manager Paula Coony said. It's a product that is advancing the process of greening rink maintenance and the push to net zero by reducing the load on refrigeration equipment. 

Zamboni FastICE™ Advanced Ice Making System Overview

The Coyotes are one of a few NHL teams to utilize FastICE technology. The Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predatords, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs also use FastICE machines.

And for those of you who are a bit wonkier about Zamboni machines:

The new Zamboni machines are also equipped with the Level-Ice system, a laser leveling system which automatically, and precisely controls the blade -- which is sharp enough to slice through thick stacks of newsprint, weighs 57 pounds and is a half-inch thick. The precision laser guidance provides consistently level ice and significant savings of energy, water and time.

Zamboni Level-Ice® Overview

A computer in each Zamboni machine reads a signal from software behind the Gila River Arena scorers box. That signal automatically adjusts the Zamboni blade up and down based on the levelness of the ice, which will be especially helpful in the desert environment, with less load on the refrigeration system. The water goes down in a light spray mist to snap freeze to create a harder, denser surface that the players will notice.

The two Zamboni machines will combine to travel roughly three miles during each home game and roughly 2,000 miles annually. In sum, they remove close to 2,500 pounds of compacted snow and have enough tank space to disperse about 1,500 pounds of water.

All things considered, it all comes down to a goal advertised on the Zamboni website:

"The principal product (we) have to sell is the ice itself."

And, for the Coyotes, to invest in it.

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Lead Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Getty Images // Second Photo Credit: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes // Third Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Getty Images // Fourth Photo Credit: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes // Fifth Photo Credit: Norm Hall - Getty Images // Sixth Photo Credit: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes

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