Today, one of the more fascinating portions of a hockey game for many is the Zamboni circling the ice between periods. The Zamboni, named after its inventor Frank Zamboni, cleans the ice and lays down a clean sheet all in one swoop.
That was not always the case.
Until the machine’s invention, the ice was cleaned by a hard working crew of men with shovels and scrapers. At the venerable Boston Arena, the world’s oldest hockey arena and now called Matthews Arena, current Bay Area resident Dick Bradley was one of the “Bull Crew” cleaning the ice.
“In those days, there were only three artificial ice surfaces in the city. TheBostonGarden , Boston Arena and the Boston Skating Club,” said Bradley.
The Boston Arena may not have had the capacity of theBostonGarden , but it does have its own history.
“Boston Arena housed college and high school hockey and they could get in about 6,000 fans,” said Bradley. “I worked at Boston Arena with the bull gang.”
At HP Pavilion, the Tank Patrol is on the ice simply to fire T-shirts into the stands and entertain the crowd. Back in the 1940s and 50s, the Bull Crew did the hard work to prep the ice at the intermissions.
“The ice was always cleared by the bull gang and there were probably 10 of us,” said Bradley. “As soon as the period was over, five guys would go one way and five would go the other way.”
And they cleaned the ice the old fashioned way.
“It was all done by scraper and the ice was made by two carts with water the guys pulled around,” said Bradley.
With two Zambonis always on hand, this would never happen at HP Pavilion, but during the Sharks early days with one Zamboni cleaning the ice, a potential breakdown could have reverted the cleaning to the old school ways.
“Shovels were the emergency option,” said Bruce Tharaldson, the long-time ice guru for HP Pavilion.
For Bradley, the hard work truly came when a fight or wrestling match was scheduled in the Boston Arena following a hockey game.
“Say a hockey game was going one night and a fight was the next night,” said Bradley. “In the third period, they would turn down the refrigeration and when the game was over, we would go out with picks on the ice. Then a tractor would push the broken ice out.”
The way the ice was made wasn’t the only difference a fan would notice if they traveled back almost 50 years.
“We didn’t have plexiglass around the ice. We had fencing,” said Bradley.
Bradley did more than work the ice as he became a strong player forBostonUniversity and took part in what we now know as the Frozen Four.
“As a sophomore, junior and senior, we went to the national tournament,” said Bradley. “Only four teams from around the country were invited. It was always held at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs .”
After college, Bradley looked to make a career on the ice, but it didn’t pan out quite as expected.
“When I graduated, I signed a contract for $100 and was assigned to Buffalo ,” said Bradley. “I (was then) farmed out to New Haven .”
What really hurt was that Bradley’s contract with Buffalo ruined his chances at an even more memorable prize.
“I came back to Boston to go out for the Olympic team and was living inWatertown, Mass. ,” said Bradley. “To make ends meet, I was driving a taxi. I would go to a drug store to have a paper to read when waiting on fares. One day I opened the page to see the headline ‘Bradley dropped from Olympic team.’”
The professional contract ended up being the problem.
Bradley still pined for time around the rink and was even the Boston Bruins emergency goalie for part of a season. That emergency netminder would be the backup for whichever club needed him that night.
“No team dressed two goalies and the home team had to have an extra goalie in the stands,” said Bradley. “They said they would give me $25 a game and two tickets. My wife and I would watch games from behind the goal.”
Bradley almost fulfilled a hockey dream one night.
“There were no masks in those days and Harry Lumley from Chicago never saw a shot and goes down like he was shot in the head,” said Bradley. “They take him off the ice and three or four minutes after he was off, I hear the loudspeaker say ‘Dick Bradley, please report to the Chicago dressing room.’ The Bruins trainer got my stuff and took me over to Chicago ’s coach. He said I’d better get my pads on.”
It would not be the night Bradley thought it would be as the Chicago trainer fixed up Lumley and he returned to the game. During the days before goalie masks, the theory for an injured netminder was much the same as “getting right back on a horse” – if you didn’t, you might be afraid the next time the puck comes at you.
Bradley managed to coach a high school club to a state championship while in New Hampshire and eventually retired as an executive director for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, one of six accreditation programs in the country.
Following a lifetime on the East Coast, Bradley retired to live in the Bay Area near grandkids, but hockey is still a big part of his life. Bradley’s son-in-law is Sharks Blue Line investor Greg Reyes and Bradley has traded East Coast allegiances to attend most Sharks home games.
And his son-in-law doesn’t make him clean the ice or back up Evgeni Nabokov for his tickets.