There are many people who have a hand in making the game day experience at Munn Ice Arena a smooth and enjoyable one. But there might not be someone as counted on as the Zamboni driver.
For 35 years, Lou Tomo has assured the Spartans a fresh sheet of ice when they depart the locker room, something a hockey player never takes for granted. Now, after a prolonged career, Tomo has hung up the keys to the Zamboni he has driven so many times, for the last time.
Tomo got started driving Zambonis at Lansing Ice Arena before eventually making his way to Munn, where he had front row seats to Spartan hockey games for over three decades.
“Oh yeah, I watched the games,” Tomo said. “I was right on the tunnel glass.”
It doesn’t get much better than that. Watching hockey live is an exhilarating experience, and Tomo was ice-level for all the action. He was a part of three national championship runs, when the Spartans won it all in 1986 and 2007 and finished runner-up in 1987.
Those three seasons will always stick with Tomo, along with some great players who donned the green and white over the years. Some of his favorites included Torey Krug, Anson Carter, Rod Brind’Amour and Craig Simpson.
“I wasn’t there for the national (championships),” Tomo said. “They were all out of state. But the lead up to them, it was great. The guys were in a great mood that week (leading up to games). They had good practices, so I was confident in it.”
If you ask Tomo what he misses most about college hockey back in the day, he’ll tell you that it’s the fighting. Fighting as a whole isn’t as tenacious as it once was across all levels of hockey, and Tomo has been around the game long enough to see its evolution. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the emphatic crowds at Munn Ice Arena year in and year out.
“Crowd is always loud at Munn,” Tomo said. “They were (always) a great crowd.”
On Oct. 6, 2001, Michigan State played Michigan in an outdoor hockey game at Spartan Stadium that was nicknamed “The Cold War.” Tomo worked the Zamboni for that game, a 3-3 tie, and remembers it fondly.
“It was fun,” Tomo said. “That was one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen.”
The game ended in a tie, but not before Tomo dealt with some mechanical issues. During the game, one of the pins that held the blade in place on the zamboni had become loose, and it was starting to gouge the ice. To no surprise, the dependable Tomo was able to solve the issue.
“One time at the outdoor game, we had the old Zamboni break a pin,” Tomo said. “So, we had to fix that real quick. ... We had an extra spare part and worked on it hard and fast and we got it done in 10 minutes.”
Fixing up the ice in between periods is a lot tougher than it looks. It requires a certain amount of precision, and it becomes more important when you deal with high leverage college hockey games. If there was anyone for the job, it was the calm and collected Tomo, who took pride in making sure the ice was just right.
“You have to have the touch of cutting the ice just perfect,” Tomo said. “You can’t do too (little) or too much.”
So, what’s next for Tomo?
“You know what,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t think that far. Especially with this COVID going on, you really can’t do anything.”
Here’s to hoping Tomo still stops by the rink for some MSU hockey games in the future.
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