Skating on thin ice

Vaughn Bruno skates on ice at North Drive park

RANTOUL —  For some people playing sports as a kid is as easy as walking into your back yard or driveway and playing catch or basketball. For Vaughn Bruno that was an option but not his sport of choice. 

Bruno, who grew up in Rantoul  and lived here his entire life until moving to Colorado for an internship earlier this month, was born to be a hockey player. 

His dad, Dave was a goalie and his mom, Dawn was a figure skater. The only problem with that is hockey is not played in Illinois very often. Bruno said he never really got the opportunity to play hockey outside of when he was a youngster. That childhood dream was fulfilled in an unconventional way. 

“It was very cold last year multiple days in a row and had rained the week before. So one day I drove past North Drive park which is by my house, and it kind of looked like a puddle had frozen over,” Bruno said. “So I parked my car, and there was a nice patch of solid ice. I then got in my car and drove straight to the ice arena I work at in Champaign and got my skates and then came back skated on it all day,” 

So last month when a similar weather pattern came through, Bruno decided he had take the opportunity to skate outside again. 

Bruno said this time around,  people noticed him and he could tell they have never seen anything like it before. 

“A lot of people would drive by very slow and stare,” Bruno said. “One guy got out and took a picture.”

Bruno said to him this is normal and something he wishes he would’ve done sooner. 

“To me shooting hoops in the driveway is like playing hockey on a frozen patch of ice. It just isn’t as easy to do in Illinois.”

Dawn Bruno said he was always wanting to play hockey when he was younger.

“Vaughn has loved hockey since he received a full sized hockey stick for his 1st birthday from a family friend,” Dawn said. “Many of his first words involved hockey terms. He started driving a mini zamboni on the kitchen table at the age of three. He spent many summer days playing driveway hockey in full adult pads and uniform as a little guy.” 

One of the few places in the area where you can play hockey is the University of Illinois Ice Arena. That is where Bruno worked as the head Zamboni driver before moving to Colorado. 

Just like playing hockey, being a Zamboni driver was almost a given.

“When I was a kid my parents would put me to bed with the book “Sam the Zamboni Man.”  Ever since then I was interested in the Zamboni,” Bruno said. “Then I worked at the U if I ice arena, and I got the chance to drive it and I love it.”

Bruno loved being a Zamboni driver so much that he just picked up a side gig as a driver at an ice arena in Fort Collins to go along with his internship at Group Mission Trips. 

Bruno said he can already tell hockey is played a lot more in his new state. 

“In Colorado, hockey is a lot more common, and it’s like playing T-Ball in Illinois; almost everyone at least starts out with it,” Bruno said. 

The lack of ice outside in Illinois is not for a lack of trying on Bruno’s part.

“I asked the mayor if there was a way to make ice out at the new sports complex, but it doesn’t sound like that is going to happen,” Bruno said. “My dad and I also tried to build a backyard ice rink a while ago, and it didn’t work because it never got cold enough. But now I got the chance to skate outside in a park and it was awesome.” 

Bruno will have at least six more months left where hockey is an everyday occurrence before returning to Illinois in August. 

You can contact Ryan Birch at or on Twitter @RyanBirchRP