A Conversation with Blayne: A Life of Ice and Flames
By Cody Hollick, originally published in the Jan/Feb 24 Bowest’ner
Cody: Good afternoon, Blayne!
Blayne: Good afternoon.
C: Tell us what you do around the BCA, Blayne.
B: I’m the Olympia driver. I do maintenance on the building, the ice, and whatever has to be done.
C: How long have you worked as an arena operator?
B: Over forty years! I started when I was fourteen.
C: So what your fans want to know about is the time you spent with the Calgary Flames. What was your role with the Flames?
B: I started in the Corral during the second year the Flames were in Calgary. I was working in the grandstand for the Stampede, and the boss for the Corral came over and said, “Do you know how to do ice?” and I said yeah, so he said “Okay, you’re being transferred over to the Corral.” So, I started up doing the Calgary Wranglers Games and practices, and then one morning I showed up in the morning for my seven o’clock shift and he said “Go home and come back at three, because you’re driving your first game!” It was a Flames playoff game against the Vancouver Canucks.
C: What was it like to be so close to the action during the Flames games? Do you have any favourite moments or things that stood out?
B: Driving the Stanley Cup run in ’89. I drove game one, game two, and game five until they were down in Montreal, blew the ghost out of the rafters, and brought the cup home! But I enjoyed every game being close to it like that. Hockey’s my life!
C: What about behind the scenes? Can you share any details that fans might not be aware of?
B: Behind the scenes as a driver, you’re ready for anything. If the glass goes, you might need to do a patch job, maybe a really big one, and next to that it’s just about maintaining the machines and helping out if somebody needs you.
C: Well said. Seems like it’s about the same as what you do for us at the BCA!
B: Except that once you start driving for the Flames, that’s pretty much all you do. You’re a driver! I’ve driven both types of machines, Zamboni and Olympia. I prefer an Olympia. Not only are they Canadian made, but they’re easier to operate. I actually met Frank J. Zamboni, the inventor’s grandson, and I also met the son of the guy who started Olympia.
C: What about some of the interactions you had with the Flames players over the years?
B: I’d get them cigars when their babies were born! Being around them, they’re just people. They’re just like friends and the alumni are just fantastic. I’ve played a few pickup games with them too and intermingled with them like that. I used to get invited out every time I didn’t work. I felt like a pylon!
C: What was the difference preparing the ice for a high stakes game like a playoff compared to a practice?
B: Well for a practice you get out in the morning, you do your edges, you do your ice, and they go out and skate on it. But during a game you do the edges with an electric, but then you have to flood (drive the Olympia) every hour until game time.
C: How did you like the passion and energy of the fans at the Dome during the games?
B: I loved it! The fans were great. Especially when you’d meet someone who had tickets in the Corral twenty years ago, and now they have tickets in the Dome, and they come and talk to you and say, “You drove for the Flames in the Corral, didn’t you?” That really hit home, that people had been watching you that many years.”
C: That says a lot, doesn’t it? How has working so closely to a professional team like the Flames impacted your view of hockey in general?
B: I’ve been involved in hockey all my life. So working for the junior teams the Hitmen and the Wranglers, the best has been seeing how many of my buddies made the NHL from the juniors. My favorite was Ryan Getslaf — a nice guy and a good friend.
C: That’s so cool — you’ve rubbed shoulders with some pretty incredible players!
B: I have! And now and again I still get to rub shoulders with Lanny when he comes and watches his grandson play at the BCA.
C: And we get to rub shoulders with you — you’re a piece of history!
B: I’m just old!
C: What was game day like? The build up to it?
B: It was exciting. It was a totally different feeling from coming in and doing the practices. The other team would be there, and then when the fans started rolling in you could really feel it.
C: Let’s talk about ’89 when the Flames won the Stanley Cup. What was it like when the Flames got back home from Montreal?
B: I went out and partied with them! I opened up the door at the bar and the first person I saw was Lanny, and the tears were still flowin’! He was so overtaken by the joy of winning his first cup, ‘cuz he never did with the Leafs! It was just great to sit with them. They were friends, and they still are, every single one of them. They’re still good people, compared to the hockey players of today… (laughs) It’s something I love doing, you know? After the Flames I went back to the Stampede and I drove there for a while until they tore down the Corral. That really put a hole in my heart cause I loved working in that old building. But then this job came available… it’s in my blood and that’s all there is to it. I enjoy doing the work and I especially enjoy doing it for the kids.
C: Well we sure are lucky to have somebody of your calibre here.
B: I appreciate that and I’m trying my best — there’s still always some stuff I can improve!