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Meagan Johnson isn’t your typical Zamboni driver. First of all, she’s only 20 years old. Secondly, she’s, well… female.

Almost a year into her position as an arena operator for Evraz Place, Johnson is used to turning heads when she gets onto the ice. Most people don’t expect to see a young woman in the driver’s seat when the Zamboni makes its appearance during a hockey game or skating event, but she said the support has been overwhelming.

“At some of the Pats games, there's some kids who actually wave at me, cheer a bit, which is really adorable. When I can, I try and wave back,” she said.

Female fans and hockey players come up and compliment her, tell her how cool they think it is and ask how she got into it.

“I kind of just took the plunge,” said Johnson. “I didn't really know what exactly I was getting myself into, but I'm glad I got myself into it.”

Johnson had spent several months’ unemployed and living off her savings before the job at Evraz Place caught her attention. Willing to consider anything at that point, she applied, doubting she’d even get a call.

To her surprise, she did and after being hired part-time, got promoted to full time this past August.

Although she applied for the job out of desperation, she said it was also a natural fit, coming from a farming background where she was used to driving all kinds of vehicles and growing up in a sports oriented family — her brother, Evan Johnson plays in the CFL for the Ottawa Redblacks.

“I hope I've inspired a few more girls to try in the area, because there's no reason females can't be operators,” said Johnson.

She said a lot more goes into the job than people realize. From laying down tracks for the boards, putting the boards in and flooding the rink layer by layer to build the ice, to painting the necessary lines on the ice, carefully placing logos in between the layers and general maintenance of the rink and the equipment, the job is somewhat of an art form.

“It takes care,” said Johnson. It is a quality that manager of sport operation for Evraz place, Russ Gronick, said helped get her the job.

After hiring two female operators during his time as an operations manager in Alberta, he found females take more care in operating the Zamboni than their male counterparts.

“I think she's one of my better operators at this point,” said Gronick. But he also acknowledged there is lots of room for her to grow, stating it takes about two to three years to get really good at the job.

Twenty-year-old Meagan Johnson is one of only three female Zamboni drivers in the history of Evraz Place. She hopes to inspire other young women to consider jobs in professions that are typically male-dominated. Photo by Jennifer Ackerman.

However, being a female in a workplace isn’t always easy. Overall, Johnson said her co-workers have been fantastic, but can still recall some occasions where she was treated differently, seemingly on the basis of her gender or a where a male co-worker pushed her past her comfort zone.

“I essentially turned him down in every way possible, as politely as I could, but as straightforward as I could,” said Johnson.

But he kept trying to get close.

“He went for a hug and tried to forcefully pull me in and so I shoved him and I got ready to deck him,” she recalls.

But Johnson feels like the incident is not unique to her occupation.

“The challenges of being a female in any occupation … follow you. However, there’s no extra (challenges) in this environment.”

She said most of the time she gets along just fine with everyone and feels supported by the majority of people she deals with on a day-to-day basis.

About two years ago, Jennilyn Bayatan also worked as an arena operator at Evraz Place. She said she never had an issue with sexism or harassment and also recalls her time as a Zamboni driver fondly.

She said clients, colleagues and fans were surprised, but happy to see a woman in the role.

“I'm proud of myself that I made it. As an Asian person — I am from the Philippines — they find it amazing, especially (because) in our culture, women usually stay at home,” said Bayatan. “Nowadays, whatever men can do, women can do it too.”

She now works as an administrative assistant at Evraz Place, but still trains new drivers from time to time.

While she loves her work, Johnson is considering pursuing a degree in either auto-mechanics or engineering, keeping up the tradition of breaking into male-dominated fields.

But in the meantime, she said she is quite content with her work as one of only three female Zamboni drivers in the history of Evraz Place.

“(It’s) is so much more than what I could have wished for (in) an occupation,” she said. ”I do hope that more females will join us.”