You’ve seen him dressed up as everything from Elvis to Napolean, but David Nulle isn’t just “The Zamboni Man” at hockey games. With more graceful turns than the skating bears and better fashion sense than candy-striped tuba players, Nulle is a personification of the creativity, tradition and passion that make Lynah Rink home to one of the greatest spectacles in all of college sports.
Born in New York City, Nulle has been doing his job since before most of us were born.
“I think he came with the rink,” remarked Lynah Rink manager Phil Graham.
Indeed, Nulle celebrated 25 years of service with Cornell back in 2002, but his roots on the East Hill run farther back. His father, Richard Nulle ’33, played hockey for the Red back when games were still played on Bebe Lake. David’s mother, Claire Denise Couch was also a Cornellian, graduating in 1932. She met Richard at a dance in Willard Straight Hall, and the rest, as David recalls, was history.
“She said she went home and wrote in her diary, ‘Tonight, I met the man I’m going to marry,” Nulle said.
While Mrs. Nulle may have known in an instant that she’d be needing a wedding dress, for David the process of deciding what to wear is a little more complex. With an impressive wardrobe built over decades, Nulle’s selections are a secret to everyone but him before games. However, the creative process starts much earlier, with weeks of thoughtful preparation going into big games like Harvard.
While most of us toss on a red sweatshirt or hockey jersey, Nulle has a flair for the historic. Often preferring period pieces, and Nulle has been known to don chain mail vests, although the extra 20-pounds does a number on his legs.
“I enjoy it,” Nulle said. “I mean how many jobs are there where you can dress up like I dress up?”
Not many, but of course there are some limitations to Nulle’s costumes.
“Sometimes it’s what can you fit into,” he said. “I like to have a little redundancy built in because sometimes you’ll get up there and find out the zipper’s wrecked or something.”
In 1985 — when I was still wearing diapers and pants with feet — Nulle donned his first costume, a medieval getup fit for a kind. Since then, his costumes have spanned centuries and genres, but the one thing he’s never been in all those years since is an actual Zamboni driver. Cornell retired its last true Zamboni machine back in 1982, because it was too hard to get parts far. Today, Nulle rides a propane-fueled Olympia ice resurfacer with 16-inch studded tires and maximum speed of five miles per hour. Sitting atop the Olympia’s 250 gallons of scalding hot water and an 84-inch razor sharp blade, Nulle has come to terms with the occupational hazards of his day-to-day job. blade, Nulle has come to terms with the occupational hazards of his day-to-day job. Still some things are unforeseeable.
“I hit a bear once,” Nulle recalled. “He was coming out the middle door and he just time it perfectly, but I think the padding saved him. He seemed OK.”
Most of us know Nulle only from intermissions at games, but as night manager of Lynah, he’s there all week making the rounds, checking up on rink rats and making sure the figure skaters stay in line. Lynah Rink may be undergoing a $10-million, but fortunately for us, Nulle and his commitment to Lynah Rink and Cornell Hockey remain unchanged.
“I love it,” Nulle said. “The way I look at it, it’s like I’m being paid to host a party, a wonderful party where people come in and do all sorts of wonderful things.”
And so on behalf of the Lynah Faithful, thank you David and all of the Lynah Staff for being such great hosts.
On one final note, it seems I picked the wrong Cardinals to follow this year. So if you see any of the five St. Louis Cardinals fans at Cornell like Matt Beyer or Alex Katz, buy them an O’Douls and raise a toast to their World Series champion Redbirds.
Paul Testa is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Cleveland Rocks will appear every other Wednesday this semester.