It’s a Monday afternoon, just three days away from the New York Rangers’ season opener against the Colorado Avalanche, and the ice at Madison Square Garden is covered up and littered with gigantic pink flamingos in preparation of pop star Katy Perry’s concert later that night.
Within the bowels of the world’s most famous arena, Jack Durkin and Paul Curtis, who Rangers fans see every night driving Zambonis to resurface the ice, are preparing like it’s the middle of the NHL season.
Both Durkin and Curtis have been apart of the Rangers ice crew for over 25 years, working together like a well-oiled machine despite being from opposite sides of the Atlantic.
Durkin, who has worked at MSG for 34 years and on the ice for 32, hails from Woodside while Curtis, a 25-year MSG veteran and 17-year ice member comes from London.
“We start at 7 a.m., all the boards are off the floor and the end boards and glass are already in. The ice will be dirty from people spilling beer, spilling sodas,” Durkin said. “We’ll cut the ice, we’ll clean it all up and by 9:30, it would be ready for either the visiting team or the Rangers will be on the ice for morning skate.”
How does the ice get there?
No matter what time of year, Madison Square Garden is always bustling. Whether it’s Knicks and Rangers games, boxing matches, concerts or dog shows, the event floor is constantly experiencing turnover.
Remarkably enough, the ice is always there.
Curtis and Durkin lay down the surface once a year, which came on Labor Day Weekend this year. And there is a meticulous way to do it.
“We put down a thin layer of water, white paint, another layer of water and then all the logos go in, the red lines, the blue lines, the goal creases,” Durkin said. “And then an inch worth of ice on top of it.”
While the lines are painted, the Rangers logo and advertisements are vinyl. But what’s with the white paint?
“We have to paint the floor white because water’s clear. Because it’s only an inch thick, grey concrete floors would turn up grey under the ice,” Durkin added.
While fans see both Durkin and Curtis driving the Zamboni during intermission, they spend their time working on their rides during the action.
“We clean the machines off, spray the ice off and fill them with water again, Curtis said. “And then we get them ready for the next interval.”
Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast.
If there’s a fight, they’re scraping blood off the ice. If there are any imperfections, they have to go out and fix it.
And if a Ranger scores a hat trick, watch out.
“One night, we had a painter’s hat giveaway and Jaromir Jagr recorded a hat trick,” Durkin recalled. “And it rained, and it rained. They kept on coming down.”
Their night doesn’t end when the game ends.
“At the end of the game, we’ll flood everything, put water down,” Durkin said. “We put a lot of water down and that’s what we cut away on game day. So the core thickness stays the same.”
If all goes well, they get to head out around midnight.
Just Two of the Guys
But the job certainly has its perks, especially for the two men that have worked a combined 59 years in the building.
Both men were working with the team in 1994 when the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup since 1940. But only Durkin was driving the Zamboni at the time.
“[The best moment on the job] has to be the Cup,” Durkin said. “It was seven games, it was beyond belief and getting to drink out of the Cup that night…what’s more fun than that?”
Not much would be. But hanging out with some of the greatest players to ever don the red, white and blue would probably be a close second.
Oh, both Durkin and Curtis did that, too.
“We would regularly go out with Mark [Messier], with Brian [Leetch], with Adam [Graves] and they’re low-key guys,” Durkin said. “We’d go to Rangers bars and only Rangers bars because these guys would sign autographs until their arms would fall off. They’d talk about everything from golf to boats. Everything but hockey, that is. They couldn’t have been nicer.”
“Hockey players are always good eggs,” Curtis added. “I’d say 99 percent of them.”
Eighteen years later, Curtis got to experience operating a Zamboni in a Stanley Cup Final.
“I drove in 2012 against the Kings and that was brilliant. And I made a conscious effort while I was driving around to remember everything,” he said. “And I remember everything…the place was going mad and I’ll always remember that.”
For this brand-new season, the hopes among MSG’s icemen remain sky-high.
“[I’m expecting] late June. Very late June,” Durkin said. “I expect to be looking up as we drive down the Canyon of Heroes… Clearly, we’re fans. It’s not just a job, we’re fans and we’re invested in this. And the losses, they hurt. Especially when it’s later in the season.”
“I think they’re going to do all right. There are so many good teams,” Curtis added. “I think it’s the Rangers’ turn.”