I have been attending Allen Americans games since day one (2009) and writing this blog for the eighth year. Like many of you I have gotten to know many fans, ushers, off ice officials, vendors, sponsors, front office staff, event center staff and ice technicians to name a few. While I make small talk, discuss hockey and maybe ask about their health or their family there are very few I really get to know. Everyone has a story and I know they are all fascinating in their own way. I have decided this season in addition to interviewing players, I should be fun getting to know the story of some of the folks you see at all of the games.
The first person I want to talk about is one of the most recognizable people at the hockey games. He gets as much ice time as many of the players and we all watch him over and over again. His name is Geoff Gill (no relation to Riley Gill) and his formal title in Ice Technician but he is better known as the Zamboni driver. Here is Geoff’s story
|Geoff Gill in his Zamboni office|
Geoff has been a Zamboni driver since 1997 and he gets his interest in hockey from his dad who was born in Treherne, Manitoba but went to school in Wahpeton, North Dakota where he was a star hockey player. Geoff showed me a scrapbook with all kinds of articles and stories about his dad’s hockey excellence back in the late 1930’s. After high school his dad enlisted in the Army and was in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. His mom and dad met during the war while they were both on vacation in Bermuda. Geoff’s mom was from New York City (Brooklyn). After the war they got married and moved to Long Island where Geoff was born. He has four brothers, one older and three younger.
When Geoff was around three years old the family moved to Security, Colorado which is adjacent to Colorado Springs. A few years later they were transferred to Denver. His dad worked for the old “Ma Bell” aka AT&T before it was broken up in the 1980’s. Geoff played youth hockey and was coached by his dad. He told me he never considered himself a great player but when he was a senior in high school he played for the Denver Country Club team and they won what would be called the state tournament today.
|Geoff’s 1970 championship team, he is back row left next to the coach|
In addition to coaching, Geoff’s dad was an off ice official serving as the official scorer for many teams and leagues in the area. He worked for the Denver Spurs (Western Hockey League) and when the NHL Colorado Rockies came to Denver (1976-1982) he was their official scorer. When the Rockies folded and moved to New Jersey, Geoff got an original Rockies jersey and a pair of Mike Gillis’s skates.
When he was 17 Geoff enlisted in the US Navy and had a 20 year career (1970-1990). He spent those 20 years in the Western Pacific. He spent time on aircraft carriers including the USS Hancock, USS Carl Vinson and USS Constellation. He had three tours in Vietnam and was stationed in the Philippines for three years. He met his wife in San Francisco who was from the Philippines so they enjoyed their time in the Philippines.
|Part of Geoff’s military memorabilia wall|
Geoff left the Navy in 1990 while stationed in San Diego because it was time to for him to deploy to sea duty and he didn’t want to leave his wife who was battling cancer. His wife passed away in 1997. While living in San Diego, even before he got out of the Navy, Geoff and his friends would go to San Diego Gulls games and drive up to attend Los Angeles Kings games. Allen coach Steve Martinson was still playing in San Diego in the early 1990’s before he started coaching the Gulls in 1995-96.
|A small portion of Geoff’s hockey memorabilia wall in his home|
After his wife passed away Geoff started to get involved in some hockey/ice related activity at the San Diego Ice Arena which was close to where he lived. His brother played in a house league at the arena and the manager was also in the Navy. Geoff helped with skate schools and asked if the manager needed any Zamboni drivers. That was 1997 when it all started. The only way to learn was to drive around when there was nothing going on so he would get up at 1:00 am and go to the rink and drive around just to learn how to drive the Zamboni. In 2002 Geoff moved from the San Diego Ice Center to the newly opened Kroc Community Center which was built by the Salvation Army and funded by a $87 million donation from Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. Geoff worked at the Kroc center for seven years. It was at the Kroc Center that Geoff got to know Steve Martinson who had become the coach of the San Diego Gulls. The Gulls didn’t play at the Kroc Center but would periodically hold practices there.
– Geoff got remarried in 1999 and that is how he eventually got to Dallas in early 2010. His wife (Sherry) is an auditor for the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) and was transferred to Texas. He was living in Plano and started working at the Plano Stars Center which was not far away. There were some serious foundation issues with the facility so after four months Geoff did some research and made the move to the AEC in December of 2010.
– In 2005 Sherry and Geoff adopted their daughter Mei from China. Sherry is Chinese and that helped them go through the process of adoption quicker. Geoff told me when you adopt from China you don’t have much say in which child you get but as it turned out Mei was destined to be part of the family. For some reason, which Geoff cannot explain, they used purple folders to organize all of their files related to the adoption. As it turned out Mei’s full Chinese name includes the word purple. If that wasn’t enough it also turned out Mei and Sherry share the same birthday.
|Mei, Sherry and Geoff Gill|
|Sherry and Mei wearing traditional costumes on visit to China|
– If you have ever seen a sharp looking Corvette parked behind the AEC it belongs to Geoff and it has quite a story. He bought the 1968 Corvette in 1976 and has owned it ever since. It traveled with him to the Philippines and other destinations while he was in the Navy. However, from 1997 to just this year it has been in storage at home and in his brothers garage in San Diego when the Gill’s were transferred to Dallas. Geoff had the Corvette shipped to Dallas on a flat bead truck where it sat in his garage for eight more years before he started the restoration. When I asked Geoff why he decided now to restore the Corvette he said, “I am getting old and I either had to get rid of it or spend the money to restore it. It wasn’t worth anything as it was inoperable so I decided to get it fixed.” The Corvette is now new from front to back. The only things not new are the frame, front end hardware, the body and the hardtop itself. Everything else from the engine, transmission, rear end, and electrical system including all of the wiring is new.
|It took 10 months and a lot of $$$ but the 1968 corvette is as good as new|
– Geoff is a big part of the Allen Americans family. He greets the players with a fist bump before and after practice and on game days takes their gloves and puts them on the glove warmer between periods. He takes such pride in his job and strives to make the ice perfect. He has been known to give staff and officials hell if they walk on the ice before it has dried as he prepares it on game night.
– I found out accidentally a couple of years ago that Geoff, for many years, has purchased season tickets to the Allen Americans and donated them back to the team to be distributed as part of the Seats for Soldiers program. I found out while interviewing Geoff for this story that he also is one of the sponsors of the Allen Ice Angels. When some players expressed an interest in attending the alumni game last season but could not afford the airfare, Geoff offered to buy tickets for them.
|Geoff is one of the sponsors of the Ice Angels|
– Geoff’s other duty is to act as tech support for coach Steve Martinson. Because of his computer background in the Navy and interest in computers Geoff is called upon to help out when things go awry which seems to happen frequently. He is always willing to help.
– How long is Geoff going to keep getting on the Zamboni? He says he is enjoying what he is doing and even last season when the team didn’t do well it was still fun to come to the rink. He likes to help the team by providing the best surface to play on. As he says, “I want the ice to be perfect before anyone arrives on game night.” I think we will see Geoff Gill taking care of the ice and the players for many years to come.