The dark, closet-sized office—tucked between the water tanks and the two Zambonis at the Pepsi Center—looks the same as it did when Tony Kreush moved in 18 years ago, save for a growing number of memorabilia. Posters of two retired Avalanche jerseys, belonging to Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, cover the outside of the door to his office, within which resides part of the net from the 2001 Stanley Cup final victory.
Kreusch is the head ice technician for the Colorado Avalanche. It’s his job to make the Avs’ playing surface as smooth as possible—and to do so, it all starts with water. With water he creates, replaces, remakes, and repairs the arena’s 85-by-200-foot ice rink. On game days, it requires Kreusch’s attention as early as 4 a.m. and keeps it for the next 20 hours. Morphing water to be the perfect playing surface is his life’s work, and at least 41 times each year—when the Avalanche play at home—he gets another shot.
Kreusch was raised about 25 miles southwest of Pueblo in a small town called Beulah, and hockey played no large role in his childhood. His father, Bernie, was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and ran a tight ship at home, though Kreusch says it just seemed normal to him. His mother, Norma, taught third grade at Beulah School, the elementary school in town.
At 18, Kreusch enrolled in Colorado College at Colorado Springs. He was torn between studying history and engineering—math and science came easy to Kreusch—but ultimately he chose history. It wouldn’t matter. His freshman year, to make a little extra cash, Kreusch decided to help out the university’s hockey team. By the time he graduated in 1988, he was offered a full-time job to take care of the ice at Colorado College.
He took the job. Working in Colorado Springs kept Tony close enough to home that he could help out around the house, which was especially important after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. He worked there for 15 years, but then an offer came in to be the head ice technician at the University of Denver. It was the chance to run two rinks at a school that took (and still takes) hockey very seriously, and he couldn’t say no. One year later, he was offered the same role with the Avalanche.
In Kreusch’s first year with the Avalanche, the 2000–2001 season, he created the biggest stage in the NHL five times. He did it once for the 51st NHL All-Star Game, which was played at the Pepsi Center, and four more times when Avalanche competed for—and won—the Stanley Cup Championship.
Kreusch just began his 18th season with the Avalanche. In addition to the jerseys and the pieces of net in his office, four or five Disney-themed mugs—one of which is Flounder, the blue and yellow fish from The Little Mermaid—sit like trophies above his desk. He got these after working the “Disney: On Ice” shows. “You drive the Zamboni at those events,” Kreusch says, “And the kids just light up—it’s so exciting for them. When you see how much joy your work brings these kids…those shows are some of my favorite events.”
It’s those kinds of reactions, Kreusch says, both at Disney events and regular hockey games that have kept him dedicated to his profession for the past 33 years. As he talks it is late October—about one month into the 2017 Avalanche season—and we’re leaving his office to be where most of his work actually takes place: the ice, which looks and feels incredible. Advertisements along the boards reflect off the ice’s glassy surface. Don Moffatt, one of Kreusch’s Zamboni drivers, comes out and drops a fresh coat of 140- to 160-degree water atop the ice’s surface. It freezes quickly, and somehow the ice looks even better and smoother, than before. Kreusch has a phrase for that look. “Superglass,” he says. “We’re getting pretty close today.”
Moffatt, who used to work as an NHL referee and is in charge of making the ice for the 2018 Olympic Games (Kreusch will also be there, as a driver), says what strikes him most about Kreusch’s work with the Avalanche is the amount of respect people have for him. “The thing about Tony is that he’s taken the time over the course of his career develop relationships with everyone here,” Moffatt says. “That’s created a respect for the ice that goes from Tony all the way down to TV broadcasters who know to wipe their feet before tracking dirt onto the ice.”
Kreusch says he feels more like a craftsman than an artist. His job is to use tools, he says, such as water, carbon-dioxide compressors, and chemistry. His favorite days are when it’s just him and the rink, with perhaps only a small youth skating event for which he has to prepare the ice.
“The moments I love are Sundays when there’s nothing going on, so we get a maintenance day,” he says. “That means no games, no noise—it may just be me and a couple security guards in the building. You Zamboni the ice six or seven times, and it’s just gorgeous. It’s my chapel.”