November 22, 2012You won't find Sue Sattelmeier scraping octopi from the ice at City Sports Center, but you will find the City of Grosse Pointe resident cleaning up the divets and ruts from an uncommon spot for a woman: atop the Zamboni machine.
Sattelmeier has been a regular Zamboni driver at the rink the last four years, when, she explains, she finally wore down the manager into letting her drive.
"I started out about 10 years ago scorekeeping for Sam (Pulis, manger of City Sports) at tournaments and for summer leagues," Sattelmeier explained about her start in the hockey business. "And then he offered me a job and I started out working in the concession stand, then I started bugging him to drive the Zamboni. I lobbied for two and a half years. We were at a party at his house and his son-in-law, John (Clexton), talked him into letting, basically shamed him, into letting me drive the Zamboni."
Sattelmeier learned the craft from the other Zamboni drivers — David Pulis, Greg LaTour and Harold Bandalow — at the rink. She began by doing a "dry shave" — riding the machine with no water — to acclimate herself to the machine, its operations and the specific pattern to drive on the ice to end by the door on the last pass.
"It's not like driving a car at all," she said. "There's no brakes, you just go on and off the gas pedal."
The next step in the learning process was to add the water and then to complete the operation within 10 minutes.
"When they started teaching me the water, then they would time me. They'd put 10 minutes up on the score clock and I would have to beat the 10 minutes."
It didn't take long before Sattelmeier was taking regular shifts cleaning the ice between practices and during games — and with that, the occasional double-take. "You see a lot of men give you that look like, 'uh oh, it's a woman driver,' but you know I've gotten lots of compliments on how well I did the ice."
And very few mishaps. "I only ran into one thing once. I ran into the door that was open because of the way the Zamboni turns and I hit the door." No one was there, but she knows people heard it in the rink.
It isn't atop the Zamboni that causes consternation. "The most embarrassing is when you're shoveling (the leftover ice shavings) after you do the Zamboni and falling on your rear end. I've done that a couple of times," Sattelmeier said.
Sattelmeier is equally at home on the ice on skates as well. She began playing hockey 16 years ago when her oldest son, then 5, was playing and she learned about an adult-learn-to-play hockey class in Troy.
"I just always liked hockey and when we were kids, there was really no place to play (for girls)," she said. She plays at Glacier Pointe in Port Huron, where, ironically, there is another female Zamboni driver.
The single mother of three sons, Trevor, 21; Patrick, 19; and Spencer, 16, works full time as a medical secretary in the endocrinology department at Henry Ford Hospital and part-time at City Sports Center. She also volunteers with the Wayne State University hockey team on which Trevor plays.
"I'm a sports mom. It's my comfort zone," Sattelmeier said. "As many hours as I work, I don't have as much time to volunteer. I guess that's why I score keep for Wayne State. I try to do as much as I can.
"Everybody who works here, they're like my family. It's not even like going to a job which is why there are some nights when I think, 'oh my gosh, I can't work one more hour.' I say it's a job, but it truly is a pleasure to work here."
And now that her son, Patrick, also works at the rink and drives the Zamboni, she has more time with him.
Aside from enjoying doing something not many people know how to do, Sattelmeier enjoys driving the Zamboni and creating a fresh sheet of ice because she is a hockey player.
"I think because of my love of hockey, it's very peaceful for me to get on the Zamboni and know you're creating something, as a hockey player, you know you want to come out on that beautiful sheet of ice and you know go, 'this is a good sheet of ice.'"