Written by Matt Johnson for the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association.
For more than 12 years, Brian Pryhitka has been known to many around Saskatoon simply as ‘Zamboni Brian.’
“Everybody would ask if Zamboni Brian was coming to the rink today,” said Pryhitka.
Pryhitka is a long-time volunteer in Saskatoon’s north end, where he operates a Zamboni for the outdoor rink at St. George School. . It all started when his two boys, Austin and Tyson, were getting into hockey. After a day of work, Pryhitka would head to the outdoor rink to shoot pucks and skate around.
“There was never a decent outdoor rink anywhere that you could just go out there and play. The ice was rough and you couldn’t even skate on it, to be honest with you,” said Pryhitka.
Pryhitka played hockey for many years himself, and his kids showed interest in the sport from an early age. He would frequently spend hours after work on the outdoor ice with the boys, and he felt like it only made sense to make it a better surface for them to spend time on. He told his wife he was going to find a way to flood the ice. “But I didn't tell her I was buying a Zamboni,” joked Pryhitka.
He was able to find a slightly used model in a small town outside
of Winnipeg, who then shipped it out to Saskatoon. After picking it up at a transportation company’s facility, he took to the streets in his new ride and drove it back home. “I was getting thumbs up from everybody,” said Pryhitka.
After picking up his new toy, along with 200 feet of fire hose from a local fire department and a new sump pump, Pryhitka was set.
Crowds started to come in bunches. Word got out about the Zamboni, and Pryhitka soon helped to make the outdoor rink one of the most popular in the city, hosting a number of huge games of shinny over the years.
The fully SGI insured vehicle — which he considers to be one of the best investments of his life — has helped create a lifetime of memories with his two sons.
“I will never forget the memories I have with them,” said Pryhitka. “They would come home, do their homework, get ready and say ‘we’ve got to go to the rink.”
Pryhitka coached his kids’ minor hockey teams growing up, where they would frequently practice on the outdoor ice. But as his kids have grown older and he’s no longer coaching, he continues to be the man on the Zamboni. “I’m still doing it today because I just like to give to the community,” said Pryhitka.
“It's a rare gift to have such a dedicated volunteer who puts in countless hours year after year and who wants nothing in return but to see kids using the rink and being active outdoors in winter," said Richard Medernach, president of the Lawson Heights Community Assocation.
"Brian's dedication is really tremendous. I mean, most people don't go out and buy a zamboni and make such good ice for an outdoor community rink. He's an old school guy who goes about his work quietly and gets the job done,” Medernach said.
Over the last 12 years, Pryhitka has had teams such as the Saskatoon Blades Hockey Club of the Western Hockey League, as well as the Saskatoon Blazers and Saskatoon Contacts — a pair of local U18 AAA teams — come out on the ice, which he considers some of the highlights of his time making ice in the community. “When they get on the ice — you just see their eyes open up. It’s amazing,”
“Their expression when you get on that ice — it’s just amazing. It’s like you let a person out of prison who has been there for 10 years. They go crazy. They’re yelling. They’re screaming,” said Pryhitka. “It’s nice to see.”
Pryhitka stores the Zamboni at his own home, where he’ll drive it to the rink when it comes time to flood.
“As soon as I get that Zamboni going there's people standing outside just waving — it’s the best,” said Pryhitka.
While he acknowledges he won’t continue doing it forever, Pryhitka notes it’s the relationships he’s made over the years that make all the work worth it.
“It’s the memories and the friends that you make, like the parents or our boys with their friends that they made — they'll never forget that. Never.”
Story by Matt Johnson
Photo by Eva Gleadow
Edited by Christian Bates-Hardy