Columbus Blue Jackets fans have waited over three and half months to say those three magic words: “Hockey is back!” It has been a long off-season and fans have had summers full of vacations and relaxation, but at Nationwide Arena, the ice crew was busy preparing for the upcoming season. No one has worked harder than Head Ice Technician, Ian Huffman.
If you have ever been to a Columbus Blue Jackets game, you have seen Ian Huffman. Where you might ask? He was the man driving the Zamboni, the machine used to resurface the ice. That is just one facet of Huffman’s job. Huffman is in charge of ice maintenance, the Zamboni, the ice crew, facility operations, and even services for the team, such as picking the team up from the airport or unloading the bags. Huffman’s job is certainly not an easy one, and it often goes unappreciated by fans. The main reason why the Columbus Blue Jackets’ season is possible year after year is because of Huffman’s hard work and sacrifices, and unfortunately, many people don’t even know anything about him.
Huffman, 30, first began working for the Blue Jackets when he was twenty-two years old. He was just a member of the ice crew, and saw it as a fun, part-time job. He would skate out on the ice and shovel the snow, while getting to watch his favorite team play. He never imagined his little side gig would evolve into the career he has now. Huffman dreamed of becoming a fireman and even earned his firefighting certificate, but thankfully for the Blue Jackets, that career path didn’t work out.
Huffman was a member of the ice crew for three short seasons. While serving on the crew, he proved himself. He served as the right-hand man to the former head ice technician, and showed that he was ready to take on a more challenging role. “He’s passionate. He has a dedication to the game of ice hockey, and proved again and again that he was ready to take the next step in his career,” Scott Lofton, the Associate General Manager of Nationwide Arena, said.
At the young age of 25, Huffman, hired by Lofton, became the NHL’s youngest ice technician, a position that usually requires years of experience. Some ice technicians started in the minor leagues, and after years of hard work, they finally broke into the NHL. Not only is Ian the youngest, but he is also one of the best. He is so talented and good at what he does that he caught the attention of Dan Craig, the National Hockey League’s Senior Director of Facility Operations. On a trip to Columbus, Craig visited Nationwide. He watched a game and analyzed Huffman and his crew’s every move. He was planning to talk to Huffman about what the ice crew could do differently or better, but Craig could not find anything wrong. In fact, Craig decided that he wanted every ice crew in the league to copy the Jacket’s Ice Crew’s pattern of ice cleaning, something that Huffman thought of and put together himself.
Craig was so impressed with Huffman and his work that he chose Huffman to be a part of the ice crew of two of the NHL’s outdoor games this past season. The first game took place in Los Angeles, where the crew could only work on the ice over night, as the ice was covered during the day due to temperatures of over 100 degrees. The second game was in Chicago during a blizzard, when temperatures dipped to -13 degrees. No matter what the situation, Huffman gracefully handled every obstacle that was thrown at him.
Even with his crazy workweeks, Huffman finds time to develop relationships with his ice crew. “He’s honestly more like a friend than a boss. He’s serious when he needs to be, but still can go out with us after and have a beer to celebrate a win,” Ice Crew Member Cole Frendenburgh said.
Huffman has accomplished a lot in his career for someone of such a young age, but those accomplishments have been reached because of Ian’s work ethic. He is one of the main reasons why games are possible.
Game days, Huffman’s favorite part of his job, usually begin around 5:45 a.m., for Huffman, when he gets to his office in Nationwide. He must keep on eye on the building, monitoring the temperature and the indoor and outdoor conditions. At 8 a.m., Huffman must compile his first report, and continues to file reports every two hours after that. Huffman gets the ice ready for the morning skates of the Jackets and the opposing team at 10:00 and 11:30 a.m. He takes the Zamboni out three times in the morning, once between the skate sessions, and then three times after. He also uses a machine to go over the perimeter of the ice. Huffman’s main concern for the day is the temperature, something that he has to constantly battle throughout the game, as the body heat of the fans have a huge impact on the ice. Huffman’s goal is to keep the rink at the perfect temperature: lower than 60 degrees, and 40% humidity.
Huffman is all smiles on game day, greeting his ice crew and fellow co-workers with high-fives and fist bumps. He pumps up the ice crew during his quick meeting with them, where he goes over a run-through of the game. Once the puck drops at 7 p.m., the ice crew is ready to go. It’s always a good time in the Zamboni tunnel where the ice crew stays during the game, but once Ian yells “One minute”, the crew gets down to business. The doors fly open, and the ice crew heads out with their giant shovels to clean the snow off the top of the ice. They go out about three times a period. During the game, Ian makes sure to log the conditions of the game, keeping a watchful eye on the temperature gauge. “Ian’s job is definitely a difficult one, but he never complains to us. He’s one of the greatest bosses, and has faith in his crew to get the job done right,” Ice Crew Member Lindsey Swimm stated. “He’s strict when he needs to be, but always makes sure we have a great time every game night.”
Ian Huffman is more than just a Zamboni Driver. He runs the behind-the-scenes of the Blue Jackets organization. He is a single parent, and sacrifices time spent with this four-year-old daughter to make sure that hockey can happen at Nationwide.
“During the season, Ian sacrifices many of the pleasures that most people enjoy. The hockey team dictates his work schedule. Even when the team is on the road, he prepares the ice for injured players. Many nights he will find a sofa to get a couple hours of sleep before he is right back at it,” stated Lofton.
Everyone knows about the Zamboni driver, but no one knows his story or what he actually does. Ian Huffman deserves credit for his hard work, work that people often overlook or underestimate its difficulty. To Huffman, this job is a rewarding one. To see a game run smoothly brings nothing but satisfaction to him.
“You put all the work in. You want to have a great sheet of ice, a sheet that doesn’t interrupt the game at all,” Huffman says. “You want that kind of ice every game, and when you can have a good game like that, you know that you did your job and made the game better. It’s fulfilling.”
He’s humble and says he doesn’t need the recognition, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve the praise. He deserves to no longer be the nameless celebrity of Columbus. He deserves to be known as Ian Huffman: the man who makes it all happen.