You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but Steven “Scooter” Fruik is a man who likes a close shave.
A bearded fellow with big personality, Scooter is the ice manager and lead Zamboni driver for the Nashville Predators. As he strides through the underground tunnels of Bridgestone Arena on our private tour, he moves with purpose — like a hockey player racing toward the puck.
“Come here and you’ll get hooked after the first game.”
Scooter joined the Predators in August 2009 and has since become an important part of the city’s ever-growing hockey tradition. He oversees resurfacing efforts of the ice before and during games to help maintain the quality of play while keeping everyone safe on the slick surface. His duties include driving the Zamboni, performing safety inspections and managing the maintenance crew.
But Scooter remains largely invisible to the players, coaches and officials – and that’s just how he wants it.
“When things are quiet, that’s the best. When people start making noise about the condition of the ice, that’s a problem,” he says.
So when does he consider it a job well done?
“If we find no divots and no blowouts – and we win.”
Scoring the goal, with a big assist
The Predators don’t always win, but their recent performance augurs well for a return to the playoffs come next April.
During the 2014-2015 season, the team amassed a record of 47-25-10, finishing second in the Western Conference Central Division. Scooter won’t take credit for the team’s successes — or blame for their failures — but he’s wholly committed to his role in attracting fans old and new.
“What I’d tell people is that you should come here and you’ll get hooked after the first game,” he says. “It’s really exciting to see two teams trying to beat each other up and do everything they can to win.”
The concept of teamwork is integral to Scooter’s own winning philosophy. As the captain of this complex operation, he has carefully chosen each member of his ice crew to build a creative, hard-working culture.
“I’ve learned that surrounding myself with people who have knowledge in the same thing that I do makes it a lot easier,” he says. “This group of people has been with me for a long time. I usually go for people who have knowledge in hockey, who are artistic, who are good listeners, and love what they do. Above all, you need to respect the ice.”
Playing at full strength
It takes between 12,000 and 15,000 gallons of water to form the surface of a hockey rink. The maintenance crew forms the ice in several different layers, painting it a brilliant white to provide a contrast with the black hockey puck.
Next, the crew paints the hockey markings and team and sponsor logos on top of the final layer. Before a game they place all the dashboard ads, stickers and clean up the glass. The end result: a pristine look that will impress people cheering in the front row, and those who do their rooting from the upper deck.
12,000 to 15,000 gallons of water are needed to form the surface of a hockey rink.
Then, when the game starts, an ice crew consisting of two Zamboni drivers and 14 skaters works on making the playing surface slick, smooth and safe. The skaters wield hard plastic shovels with sharp metal edges to collect and scoop ice shavings into a large bucket.
Just one moment of hesitation — or, even worse, a Zamboni malfunction — can become a safety hazard for players and a major nuisance for fans.
“They have a grand total of two minutes during TV timeouts to perform ice maintenance,” he says. “There’s no room for error. The Zambonis undergo safety checks before and after the game.”
Scooter and the maintenance crew are faced with growing demands. Bridgestone Arena ranked eighth in the world for concert ticket sales during the first half of 2015, with events including WWE Raw, PBR, Monster Jam and the CMA Awards.
This flurry of activity means the ice must withstand a great deal of change as crews cover it with a moving platform to prepare for other events. Just like the old Beatles song, Scooter is on the job “eight days a week.”
“Throughout the year we go from hockey to rodeos to concerts. It can be a challenge,” he says.
“After the hockey preseason is over, we go straight into Disney on Ice, where we have to white out the whole sheet of ice and make it square. When Disney is over, we come in at one or two in the morning and put it back to our regular ice.”
During games, Zambonis have just two minutes during TV timeouts to perform ice maintenance.
To ensure that the ice stays cold, the temperature inside Bridgestone Arena is kept at 65 degrees, with a humidity of 30 to 40 percent. It’s a delicate balance made even more difficult by arena conditions.
“If we can control that, then we’ll have a good sheet of ice. The players like it that way,” he says.
“We just try to give them the best ice we can every time they come out to play. It’s hard because there’s a lot of changeover in this building and these doors are always open. It’s like leaving a refrigerator open all the time.”
A successful training camp
Scooter developed a deep love of hockey in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where he began playing the sport at age 9 in Kaine’s Rink, an old bailer and machine shop converted into a hockey rink.
“We had to clean the ice after each game or practice,” he says. “We’d grab these big steel push shovels that weigh about 40 to 60 pounds. We would have to push all the snow into a pile so that the coaches could throw the snow out of the windows.”
Bridgestone Arena is kept at 65 degrees, with a humidity of 30—40%.
He and his friends soon began spending time at Pullar Stadium, a more traditional hockey rink that hosted youth and adult hockey leagues, as well as a few of the sport’s biggest stars.
“The Detroit Red Wings would use the Pullar for summer camps and training camps,” he says. “Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel and Alex Delvecchio all skated there. It was a big deal to play and work there with all that history.”
Aiming toward the goal
After graduating high school Scooter worked as a sports utility attendant at Lake Superior State University, where he learned how to drive a Zamboni and maintain the ice. In 2002, he accepted a position at the Resch Center in Green Bay as a certified ice technician.
That allowed him the opportunity to work on the ice crew for the 2005 Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic between Wisconsin and Ohio State, which took place on a makeshift ice rink covering Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
“I’m the only person to drive a Zamboni on Lambeau Field — even Brett Favre hasn’t done that!” he says. “Getting through the parking lot was the hardest part with all the fans wanting a picture of the ‘Zamb at Lamb’.”
Scooter doesn’t mind the pressure of his leadership role, leaning on years of experience and education to guide the way. At the end of each season, he attends classes hosted by the Facility Operations Managers Association (FOMA), where he can sharpen his skills and see old friends. There’s a sense of camaraderie among all ice managers in the NHL, he says, and that makes the job special.
“In the past, it was all a secret about how you made the ice — like, I’m not telling you what I’m doing,” he says. “We look at it now like the entire NHL has the best ice, not just one manager or one facility.”
These experiences have shaped his perspective and given him insight that he shares with the next generation of Zamboni drivers, ice crew members and others who are responsible for building this frozen stage. In the rare moments of quiet, just before dawn or in the middle of the night, Scooter will often look across the ice of Bridgestone Arena and reflect on his humble beginnings.
“Working here has been of the best things that could happen to a guy from a small town in northern Michigan,” he says. “I never thought I’d be doing this. Over the years I have met a lot of my heroes from my youth. There have been too many to name. It’s great to meet the guys that you spend so much time watching. I’m at the pinnacle of my career.”
Is it everything you thought it would be?
To learn more about the Nashville Predators, check out their website.