Jack Kirrane still remembers when the phone rang early in the morning in his hotel room in Prague. Kirrane was in Czechoslovakia with the 1948 U.S. Olympic hockey team preparing for the games on a European tour. He was 18.
An urgent voice told Kirrane and his roommate to get their stuff packed and get down to the hotel lobby right away. Kirrane feared the team was going on another tiring road trip.
The phone rang a second time. A voice shouted, "Get down here!" At this point, Jack and his roommate began to think something serious was going on with the team.
"We threw everything together and we got downstairs and there's us and the Canadian team," Kirrane says. "We still [didn't] know what's going on. They put us all on the same bus, threw all our bags into a truck. Zingo, right to the airport. We got on a Royal Air Force plane. Everything was a big rush and [we] were wondering what's going on."
The following day the borders between East and West were closed. The Cold War was heating up, and Kirrane just missed getting caught behind the Iron Curtain.
"You know," he says, "it was part of history."
Such understatement is typical of Jack Kirrane, a man who in the last 50 years has seen a lot, but is fazed by little.
Since the '48 Olympics, Kirrane has played professional hockey in the Bruins organization, served in the Korean War, worked for 38 years as a Brookline firefighter and managed the rink at Bright Hockey Center.
Though he can still be found in his office at the rink, Kirrane believes this will be his final year driving the zamboni and tending to the ice.
"By the first of the new year I hope to be gone," Kirrane says. "I'll miss it, but like I say it's been a long grind."
Kirrane's has worked as Harvard's rink manager for the past 15 years.
"There's a lot to driving a zamboni," he says. "You have 11 controls at your right hand, and they take a while to get used to. First you have to learn the pattern, which is not easy. See, a lot of people think you're just sitting there driving--well, you have a blind side. You have a side you can't see. It's a lot of guesswork."
Nowadays, when Kirrane drives the zamboni around the rink during intermissions of the men's hockey games, he is cheered by the fans in section 12 and tips his cap to them in appreciation. For Kirrane, the kids he gets to work with and meet through his job make it all worth while.
However, long before Kirrane was making ice at Bright, he was starring on it as an Olympic defensemen. Not only did he play in 1948, he won a gold medal as the team captain in 1960.
"When I received the gold medal, I was the captain and had to get up on the podium," he says. "It's hard to explain, but when I looked down I was shaking. My legs were going. I kind of sneaked a look down to see if my pants were shaking, but they weren't so I figured I was alright.
"When we came home we didn't see any president and we didn't go over to Fenway Park or anything like that. It was just like, so what, we won it," he adds, citing the difference between today's Olympians and his experience at Squaw Valley.
In fact, Kirrane missed the '52 and '56 Olympics because he was under the misconception that he had given up his amateur status when he played for the Boston Olympics, a Bruins' affiliate.
Kirrane was watching the '56 Olympic tryouts when Boston hockey legend Walter Brown asked if Jack was trying out.
"Am I eligible?" Jack asked.
"Of course you are," Brown answered.
Kirrane went out and put on the hockey gear that was sitting in his car. After a one-day tryout, he was invited to go with the team to Duluth, Minnesota. Kirrane declined, citing family obligations, and set his sights on 1960.
In between his years as an Olympic hockey player and military service, Kirrane followed the lead of four of his uncles and became a firefighter in Brookline.
"I came out of the service and I didn't have a job and saw an ad in the post office for temporary positions on the [fire fighting] force," Kirrane says. Kirrane held that "temporary" position for 38 years.
And now, as Kirrane plans to retire from his duties as rink manager at Bright Hockey Center, he prepares to leave the ice one last time. Olympian, firefighter, soldier, zamboni driver--what a long, strange ride it's been.Photo Courtesy Jack KirraneThe 1960 Olympic Team (Kirrane is in the front row, second from left).