If life really is about balance, then Steven Galyean has found a perfect combination.
Galyean, 55, better known as the “Zam-Man” to those not running off to the concession stand in between periods at Carolina Thunderbirds games at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex, has been a Zamboni driver for over 20 years — a labor of love that he’s developed into a fan-favorite character persona. He interacts with fans, sometimes throws T-shirts, shines in the spotlight with intermission music playing, and prides himself on cleaning the ice and doing it with some speed.
The Winston-Salem native has seen hockey grow, change, disappear, and be reborn again in the city of Winston-Salem, from its Icehawks days to its latest Federal Hockey League iteration. What started out as something of an accident has turned into a lifelong passion — a break from his landscaping day job that keeps him so busy.
Driving a Zamboni, he says, doesn’t feel like work. But he also can’t imagine doing anything else.
1. Let’s peel back the curtain a little bit. When did you first start driving a Zamboni?
“I started skating when I was 14; gave it up for a little while, then picked it back up again in my 20s. I guess you could say I was a rink rat. But I would get kicked out every weekend, I was just showing out and skating way too fast. Then, one night, a gentleman hands me an application and says, ‘Fill this out, I’ll slow you down.’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh great, I’m going to be a skate guard or something.’ Next thing I know I’m being thrown into driving the Zamboni. I’ve been doing that for over 20 years.”
2. So when did the Zam-Man persona start?
“I came up with that name some years back. It’s for people — mostly kids; I needed something short so the kids could have something to call me while I was driving around. We had some T-shirts made; I’d throw those out and autograph them. I like to make people smile. When I’m not on the Zamboni, I’m usually going through the crowd, talking to everybody that I can. I just love people. At first, it started out slow, but it didn’t take me long to have something of my own. I try to make it fun. Every kid loves the Zamboni, even the big kids. That’s my spotlight.”
3. No other sport has a special vehicle that cleans the surface — field, court, whatever — during intermissions. Why do you think people are so fascinated by the Zamboni and Zamboni drivers?
“It’s something being driven on the ice. It’s because it’s a machine, on wheels, on the ice ... it’s just something different. It’s got a weird name. The truth is everybody wants to drive the Zamboni. I never thought I would get to drive one. I kind of got thrown into it, [and] that’s how I learned. They showed me a couple of things and then threw me out there.”
4. What about driving the Zamboni, besides the fan interaction, do you love so much?
“I fall in love with it every time I get on it, every time I get on this machine. I’ve been in the landscaping business for 35 years; that’s my livelihood. Zamboni driving is my passion. Going to the rink is like going on vacation. I get to have a little fun. I can’t dance, but I can make ice.”
5. Are you surprised by how taken people have become with you? Do you get recognized outside of the rink?
“I can’t go anywhere without people hollering at me like, ‘Hey Zam-Man!’ If I don’t have my jersey on, I can lay low for a little while until they realize. It’s unreal how people find one person and connect with them.”