A well-known figure in the Calgary hockey circuit, Tony Hache’s life has been filled with family brought together over Canada’s national sport.
From the corner of his room in Mount Ida Mews, Tony sat in his wheelchair watching two generations of his family playing together. The walls of his room are adorned with hockey memorabilia, including photos of his two month old daughter sitting in the Stanley Cup, an act that would be repeated 31 years later at Rogers Hometown Hockey showcase by his granddaughter.
Tony is wearing the same Calgary Flames jersey he wore to Hometown Hockey on Saturday, March 7, the jersey of the team he cleared the ice for for over 30 years. His career as a zamboni driver started after he and his wife Isabela moved from St. John’s New Brunswick to Calgary in 1980. A week after the move Tony was hired as a driver for the Stampede Corral and after the Calgary Saddledome was built in 1983 he became the zamboni driver for the Flames.
“It was beautiful,” Tony said describing the experience. “Sometimes we had an open house and the kids all lined up on the board when I went by on the machine and they slapped my hand as I went by, it never stopped, it went all the way around.”
He also recalled that after the ice was cleared he would lift especially enthusiastic children up into the driver’s seat of his zamboni.
After 33 years of driving, Tony’s health started to decline. He began experiencing dementia and a blood circulation disorder in his left leg which would lead to its eventual amputation in 2019.
“He was very upset when we forced him to retire,” said his daughter Toni Campbell. “He would probably still be driving zamboni if he could.”
Tony and Isabella moved to Salmon Arm in 2014 to be closer to their daughter but even after retirement Tony maintained a critical eye for how zamboni drivers took care of the ice. Isabela would go on to describe him wincing when watching some drivers take too little ice off the corners.
Although the dementia has affected his recollection of some stories, specific knowledge of his former career is sharp as ever. When asked how thick the ice is supposed to be kept for the NHL, Tony immediately replied: “Usually try to keep it around two quarters of an inch.”
Despite being with family, Isabela would speak with Tony regularly about how much he missed his hockey family in Calgary. So when the Stanley Cup, the international symbol of hockey victory, came to Salmon Arm, the Haches saw the opportunity to symbolically reconnect with their former hometown hockey legacy.
“As soon as we wheeled him over to the Stanley Cup he said ‘take my gloves off, take my gloves off’ and he just touched the cup and it – brought tears to his eyes,” Isabella said. “It was a very emotional weekend for the whole family.”
Although Tony’s days as a zamboni driver and zamboni driver critic may be behind him, his days as a grandfather have just begun. As the interviews came to a close, Tony reached out to his two month old granddaughter’s foot causing the wide-eyed bundle of blankets to look up in shock and then laugh.