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Daryl Hildebrand: A cold awakening

Matt Heckert - The Miami Student
Matt Heckert - The Miami Student

Miami men's hockey practice echoes throughout Steve "Coach" Cady Arena as coach Enrico Blasi barks at his players circling during a drill.

"We gotta rebuild that ice for synchro [synchronized skating]," a maintenance worker nearby exclaims to Daryl Hildebrand over the echoes of practice. "I think that's next, either that or dance."

Hildebrand emerges from the tool closet. "Yeah, I'll take care of it," he replies. He removes his black Miami "M" hat and combs the grey hairs that sprout only from the sides of his head. "Just have to finish this."

With 40 years of maintenance experience, you might think Hildebrand has seen and fixed it all. Then he matched up with a six-ton ice resurfacer, the Zamboni.

"I had never even heard of one before I came to this job," Hildebrand said while chuckling. "Growing up in Indiana, we had football, basketball and baseball, but we aren't too big on ice hockey."

In just his second year, Hildebrand works as a senior maintenance and repair specialist for Goggin Ice Arena. He has switched employers more times in the past five years than in his entire life.

Hildebrand, 59, graduated from Connersville High School in Connersville, Indiana, where he still lives and commutes 45 minutes to Oxford every day. He started working for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) directly out of high school at its Brookville Lake branch. As a maintenance technician, Hildebrand did general building and property maintenance, which varied from welding to picking up trash.

But after 36 years, Hildebrand has had enough.

"That's not something that I planned on doing the rest of my life," Hildebrand said. "It was a good job, but you knew you was never going to get rich working there. But it was steady."

Hildebrand said many factories in the greater Cincinnati area at the time were laying off workers. His tenure at the IDNR helped him get along. He knew he always had a place to go, especially when he started having children.

Once he left the IDNR, Hildebrand ventured into other maintenance jobs, first as a floor technician at a nursing home. There, he mainly did building and bathroom repairs. He then journeyed to Miami where he had a short stint cleaning dorm rooms before finding an opening at his current position.

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"The general building maintenance from past jobs have helped with stuff I'm doing now," Hildebrand said. "We have to fix a lot of stuff in the building from changing and getting bugs out of lights to working on toilets that might clog up. I learned a lot of that when I worked at the IDNR."

On game days, you can find Daryl at the north end of Cady Arena: shovel in hand, smiling through his thick, white goatee, pressed up against the glass waiting for his turn on the ice. During breaks, Daryl clamps his ice grips to his black and tan work boots, grabs his snow plow shovel and clears excess ice and water on the rink.

"I normally don't drive the Zamboni at the game. I usually just shovel snow," Hildebrand said. "I kinda just get to sit down there and watch the game, which is kinda nice."

He arrives three hours before puck drop and departs three hours after the final horn. He puts out all of the equipment for fans and staff (stanchions, chairs and tables for ticketing, carpets for the opposing team's locker room) before setting up the goals on the ice and grabbing his shovel and squeegee. At the end of a Friday night, he breaks it all back down for it to only be put back up for the next day's game, which he says, most people take for granted.

It's tedious work that can be repetitive for some. But Hildebrand appreciates it all.

"There's a lot to it that most people don't know about that goes on here," he said. "But somebody's got to do it."

When the stadium lights in Cady Arena go off and the emergency lights stay on, after fans and administrators have left the building, only the maintenance crew remains.

The crew stays to rebuild the playing surface. They scrape the leftover ice and throw it into trash cans before another worker dumps water and runs it over the Zamboni. Once the ice is firm and glossy, Daryl Hildebrand's day is over.