Monday, August 17, 2009

The End of an Era

August 14 will no longer hold irrelevance in the world of Fighting Sioux Hockey. It will now be remembered to most as the day Denny Gunderson pushed the pedal to the metal; flooding a fresh layer of hot water amid the used ice one last time.

After 45 years with the University of North Dakota and 42 years driving the Zamboni, Denny has decided to hang his keys and take in this season, his first as a spectator, as well as a retiree. “He’s as synonymous with the men’s hockey program as anyone in town” stated REA’s General Manager Jody Hodgson. And this is more than true.

I grew up going to hockey games with my dad, three memories stick in my mind: getting Nibs and popcorn at EVERY game; my knowledge of each player and their numbers, announcing the starting line-up along with then PA Announcer, Scott Hennen; and Denny Gunderson driving the Zamboni. While I was finishing up my college career, I was able to complete my internship with the Ralph in the marketing department. Back then, our offices were on ice level, so I would run into Denny and the rest of the crew often; coffee breaks and quick quips back and forth would gain me some of the respect from the maintenance crew. From that point on, I was lucky enough to know “the Zamboni driver”.

I left for a couple years, to get a feel for the “big city living” following my graduation, but have since returned to the team and the building that I so dearly love. I was more than elated when, upon my return, Denny was one of the first guys to give me a hug and say “welcome back!”

For a guy that has worked through 3 different arenas, six head coaches, 5 national titles, he is still as down to earth as one could be. His Nordic accent, and welcoming smile will be missed, but he is not gone forever. He will be honored in true fashion at UND’s opening exhibition game against Manitoba. One question: will he don the tuxedo and top-hat as he has done for every State High School Championship game? You’ll just have to show up and find out for yourself!

I’m not the only one who shares my admiration and will dearly miss the presence of Denny this season. The Grand Forks Herald had an article in Friday’s edition and their online the comments kept adding up. Anywhere from Grand Forks to Greenville, SC to Longmont, CO; fans of the Fighting Sioux’s quintessential Zamboni driver voiced their happiness about his tenure and retirement.

Walking back to the zamboni hole with Denny on Friday afternoon, he told me of a little boy in Providence, Rhode Island for the NCAA Frozen Four who had stopped in his tracks, pointed and said “You’re the Zamboni driver!” Denny will walk away with plenty more of these stories; as well as a legend to the fans of Fighting Sioux hockey, probably even as wide-spread as the rest of college hockey.

Thanks Denny for 45 great years to UND! You will truly be missed by Fighting Sioux fans, young and old!!

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