John Rebelo doesn’t need a highlight reel to relive the latest bone-crushing check by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. From the driver’s seat of a TD Garden Zamboni, he can see the towering defenseman’s every move carved into the ice.
“Chara — he puts major ruts in the ice,” said Rebelo, a 21-year veteran of the “bull gang” that maintains the Garden’s ice and its fabled parquet basketball court. “When you go out, you can see where he was.”
On game days, the view from Rebelo’s “office” is unique in the city. Perched 7 feet above the most famous frozen surface in Boston, he glides under championship banners and gazes out at 17,565 black-and-gold-clad fans.
The task of a Zamboni driver is simple enough — smooth the ice before the game and between periods — yet it requires great concentration. Rebelo drinks seven Dunkin’ Donuts coffees in a shift to stay sharp.
With a hand crank, he must set a blade at precisely the right depth and angle to shave off the top layer, where skates have left their marks. To replace what he scrapes away, and to keep the ice at 1.25 to 1.5 inches thick, he leaves a trail of water that quickly freezes in a gleaming new sheet.
Rebelo spent 11 years with the bull gang before getting his shot to drive: “You don’t just come off the street and hop on the machine. You work your way up and if there’s an opening, you hope some day you might be a driver.”
As with any job, there are hazards. One time, during a break in a “Disney on Ice “show, Rebelo sucked up a rope attached to a set piece and couldn’t finish his pass. And on every trip around the boards, he takes care not to brush against signs, lest a tire leave a smear on a sponsor’s logo.
Mistakes on the Zamboni carry the same risk as poor play by Chara and his teammates.
“Cam Neely will be calling, and I’ll have to explain myself to the big boss,” Rebelo said, referring to the Bruins legend who is now club president. “Not good.”
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