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UP CLOSE: Zamboni days are over

Dan Wood retires from Olympic Center after 36 years

December 22, 2017
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer (gkelly@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The head coach of the New York Rangers, Alain Vigneault, walked out on to the skating rink at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. The ice was at the proper thickness, it was the correct temperature and the Zamboni driver shaved and squeegeed it the exact amount.

Vigneault had only one word for it all: "Perfect."

The ice was perfect because of Dan Wood, the former department supervisor of ice and rink maintenance.

Article Photos

Dan Wood at the Olympic Center
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

"When you do it as long as I have," Wood said, "It's like child's play."

Wood, who started working at the center 36 years ago, recently retired from his position. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family and that it was "the right time to pass the torch."

Wood was born and raised in Lake Placid. His father owned at gas station that was located across the street from the 1932 Jack Shea Arena.

Wood's enthusiasm for winter sports began early when he started speedskating with the Lake Placid Pee Wee Association. They skated indoors and outdoors, often on Mirror Lake and Lake George.

Wood rode his bike to school every day as part of his training. He never really liked school that much and focused on training and work.

"I grew a passion for ice and a good work ethic," he said.

In 1979, Wood approached Bob Allen, the arena manager at the time, looking for work and soon after started a job at the Olympic Center.

Plenty of science goes into keeping an ice rink in perfect condition. Things such as outside air temperature, the thickness of the ice and the hardness of the ice are all factors.

"If it's too soft, you'll dig in," Wood said. "If it's too hard, it'll start to chip."

The main tool for maintaining good ice is the Zamboni, which Wood knew how to operate at age 12.

A Zamboni works by doing three jobs at once: shaving, watering and squeegeeing. The Zamboni first cuts a thin layer of ice from the rink. It releases fresh, clean water, and the water is spread evenly by a towel located on the back of the vehicle. NHL rinks are 200 feet long by 85 feet wide, while Olympic rinks are 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. In either scenario, it usually takes about 15-20 minutes to Zamboni the rink.

Over his career, Wood mastered the art of ice. And because the center always has some type of competition or people just looking to ice skate, Wood said, "I want the facilities to be the best even for amateur events. Presentation is the key."

Wood said one of his favorite aspects about working at the center is the lengthy sports history associated with the arenas. He enjoyed working in the same complex where Eric Heiden won five gold medals in speedskating at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

And most of the guests he met over the years were in Lake Placid to see the site of the Miracle on Ice hockey game between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

"It's great seeing hockey fans visit this place," he said. "They look at it like it's the shrine of hockey."

Fifteen years ago, Wood got to be part of another important moment in Olympic sports history. He traveled to Salt Lake City and worked as a short track and figure skating ice consultant for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

To get the rinks full, Wood said it took thousands of gallons of water and three days of flooding with mainly garden hoses.

While the center is well known for it's sports history, it's also held many concerts and special events. Acts such as the Grateful Dead, Rush and Tina Turner are just a few of the concerts Wood remembers fondly.

"The events that draw the most are the best," Wood said. "Your work is rewarded by putting bodies in the seats."

Though Wood is retired, he still spends a lot of time at the center, sharpening skates for any skaters and hockey players in need.

"I feel like I'm still a part of it," he said.

As he walked down to the sharpening room, a boy from the Lake Placid High School varsity hockey team said, "Hey, Dan, I owe you this for my skates the other day." He handed Wood a folded up bill, said thanks and went back to his teammates.

"It's good to build up a respect and a relationship with these kids," Wood said.

Wood entered the sharpening room and performed a demonstration.

The grinder whirred and hummed, waiting for the metal. He firmly gripped the skate and sent it through. Sparks flew, and the grinder's hum transitioned into a screeching, yet satisfying, buzz.

It was the type of buzz a person could get used to, the type of buzz Wood is used to, the type of intense white noise that signifies a perfectly sharpened skate.

These days, Wood sees a lot of the hockey and skating from the seats. He likes to watch his granddaughter play mite hockey.

"It's funny to see it all from a different perspective," Wood said.

 
 

 

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