Recently, after reading my one-year-old son his A-to-Z hockey picture book for the umpteenth time, I realized – after a quick Google search – that the last name in the book has not achieved hockey's highest honour.
Where is Frank Zamboni's name in the Hockey Hall of Fame?
The hall of fame will welcome its newest inductees Monday, but notably absent again this year is the humble inventor of the famous ice-resurfacing machine that bears his name.
Zamboni, who died in 1988, was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000, the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2006 and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007. That same year, he was also inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame. Zamboni even got a Google Doodle in 2013, on what would have been his 112th birthday.
'Official ice resurfacing machine'
The Boston Bruins were the first National Hockey League team to regularly use his machine back in 1954. (They actually donated that machine to the Hockey Hall of Fame). Many years later, the Zamboni was designated the "official ice resurfacing machine of the NHL" by the league.
The Hockey Hall of Fame has a "builder" category, for which inductees are chosen on "the basis of his or her (i) coaching, managerial or executive ability or ability in another significant off-ice role, (ii) sportsmanship, (iii) character and (iv) contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general."
There's no doubt that Zamboni changed the game of hockey.
Think about it: there is no other way any big-league game could be completed in a few hours; the Zamboni ensures the best and most efficient cleanup of the ice surface during a short intermission.
But beyond that, the Zamboni changed the recreational game of hockey also. Indeed, there is no way countless local arenas could book themselves solid without the Zamboni doing a quick sweep of the ice between minor-hockey practices, beer-league games and public skates.
The man himself — who was a commercial ice-maker and refrigeration installer before changing hockey — liked to say to rink owners, simply: "the principal product you have to sell is the ice itself."
There can be only two builders inducted into the hall every year, and there are always too many deserving candidates among hockey's innumerable owners, coaches, general managers, broadcasters and other contributors to the game.
But there's something unique about Frank Zamboni, who persisted despite initial failures. He used materials such as war-surplus axles and engine parts, and even built his first successful prototype on an old Jeep chassis.
He'd be an atypical choice, sure, but Zamboni wouldn't be the first inductee to generate debate about whether he belongs.
Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley, among the first builders inducted, is largely there because he donated a trophy — the Stanley Cup, of course — which he was able to do because he had a certain level of wealth.
And what of Paul Henderson? The case to get him inducted is buzz-worthy, but largely because of that one famous goal he scored to lift Canada to victory in the 1972 Summit Series. Yet he remains on the outside looking in: unjustly, according to some — rightly, according to others.
Clearing the way for success
As for Zamboni, one could make the case that the five former players currently on the 18-member selection committee owe a part of their Hall of Fame success to the man whose machine gave them the best ice on which to perform.
And longtime Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, one of the two builders being inducted this year, couldn't have seen his team achieve such on-ice success without the pioneer Zamboni playing a part.
His invention has made a difference in every meaningful hockey game for decades; his contribution is not just a one-off. Zamboni is really overdue for consideration.
And for what it's worth, "Zamboni" is among the first few three-syllable words my son learned. Even he knows.