BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: Trading Places (Part 1)
Blog #36 – May 28, 2021
By: John Peterson
Think you have what it takes to work in hockey? If so, what looks like a job you could manage?
Just for fun, imagine you had the opportunity to trade places with one K-Wings employee for a day. You would take over their duties and responsibilities, call the shots and get paid to watch this sport we all love.
Have you ever given it much thought? Sure, we’ve all at one point or another watched Wolverines football or Tigers baseball or Spartans basketball or Red Wings hockey and felt like an armchair head coach. “Why did they run that play?” “How come Player X is in the lineup and Player Y isn’t?” “What in the world are we doing out there?”
If it helps you make your decision, I’ll offer up a few options for you and include a brief synopsis of what you’d be signing up for. In the first part of a two-part blog series, we’ll focus on hockey operations.
Ready to sharpen skates, tape ankles or roll line combinations on the fly? Here is what you’re getting yourselves into.
CLIPBOARDS AND WHISTLES
Okay we’ll start with the coaching staff. This is the glamorous job, right? Everybody wants to make the decisions that’ll lead the team to victory.
Let’s say it’s the middle game of a three-game weekend, for argument’s sake. You finally went to bed at 2:00 a.m. (if you’re lucky) after last night’s game. Before your head hits the pillow, you download the previous game, watch it again and pull the clips you want to show the team ahead of the next game.
You get to the rink by 9:00 a.m. (at the latest) and prepare for morning skate. While you wait for the players to arrive, you review your pre-scout of that night’s opponent again so you can relay the message to the team before practice. Next, you’ll get an update from the trainer on any injuries that may force you to change up the lineup.
Given the information you just received, you inform the equipment manager the expected lineup so he can assign jersey colors to each line combination. After lacing up the skates and making sure morning skate goes smoothly, you notify the team who’s playing and who’s scratched, who the starting goaltender is and who gets the night off. Then it’s off to lunch.
Sometimes your day will consist of contacting our affiliates to see who they’re calling up or sending down. Other times you’re actively recruiting or working the trade block with other ECHL coaches. Meanwhile, you’re managing the salary cap to make sure we’re under.
At 4:00 p.m., you return to the rink, put your final lineup card together including how you want the two power play and penalty kill units to look. When the players arrive, you meet with the whole team for a quick video session, then the power play groups and penalty killers separately. You find a good place to watch warm-ups, then head into the locker room to give your best motivational speech before game time.
When the puck drops, you’re watching closely, monitoring ice time, trying your best to play the match-ups, rolling the lines on the fly, giving pointers to individual players when they return to the bench from a shift, and occasionally shouting at the referee because you didn’t like a call.
Between periods, you let the players cool down, discuss adjustments with the other two coaches in the room, head to the white board in the locker room and relay the message to the team. You do that again after the second period and hope the score tilts your way at the final buzzer.
If the game goes to overtime, you have seven minutes to win it using three players at a time instead of five. If a shootout is needed, you go with your gut and pick the three players that will go one-on-one with the other team’s goaltender.
When you get back to your office, if the team wins the feeling is relief. You’re paid to win. You expect to. If the team loses, you take it personally. You’re already looking ahead and focus on what has to be better next time out.
And you better get right to it. You have 14 hours until tomorrow’s game.
SKATES AND LAUNDRY
A hockey equipment manager seems like a fun job, right? You see the players every day, shoot the breeze with the coaches, sharpen a few skates, hang jerseys in stalls and sit back and relax during the game from your rock star spot on the team bench. Sign me up!
Okay, time to put that to the test.
You were the last person to leave the rink after last night’s game. Not only were you tasked with the home team’s sweaty laundry, but you also do a load of sweaty laundry for the visiting team. Then you neatly organize each individual locker stall so the equipment hangs up exactly the same and you turn on all the fans to dry out the gear and circulate the air in the stinky room, before throwing the latex gloves in the trash.
While you wait for the laundry to dry, you tidy up the bench and locker room, wash the water bottles and replace the trash bags in every bin. You organize the game sticks by jersey number and make sure every player has a few extras. Then you line up the skates to sharpen them first thing in the morning before the team returns for practice.
When the laundry finally dries, you hang up all the game jerseys and organize them on the rack by number and make sure all the doors are locked before heading home. If by some miracle you leave before midnight, you either took a few shortcuts or had lots of helpers.
The next morning, another game day, you’re the first person to the rink again at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m.
You sharpen all the skates, hang practice jerseys in the stalls and fold the clean shower towels. You also fill the water bottles, make a pot of coffee, set up the visiting locker room with lots of water, Gatorade, coffee, bubble gum, towels, stick tape and clear tape. Also, make sure the bathrooms are well-stocked with soap, shampoo, hair gel, shaving cream and razors.
When the team arrives, players will ask you for favors such as equipment repairs, extra sticks, socks or other gear. After morning skate (and the visiting team’s morning skate), you do both sets of laundry again. If need be, you sharpen some more skates, sew on a new player’s name bar to their game jersey, hang gear in the locker stalls and clean up the locker room again.
Usually you don’t have time for lunch, unless someone else is generous enough to take down your food order and deliver it back to you. In the remaining hours before the team returns, you hang game jerseys in each player’s stall and leave a pair of game socks for them, make sure everything is well-stocked and set up the bench with all the supplies you could possibly need for equipment emergencies that may arise during the game.
The puck drops and you’re constantly paying attention to players’ needs, such as providing a towel, wiping down a visor, fixing a rivet on a skate or replacing a skate blade between a player’s shifts. If a stick breaks during the action, you better know whose stick it was and grab that player’s exact replacement twig in the blink of an eye. They’ll need the new one to finish their shift.
When the game ends, rinse and repeat the steps from last night, only you’re also in charge with the bulk of packing the bus for our overnight trip. It’s like a game of Tetris fitting in all that equipment.
When we drop the players off at the team hotel at 3:00 a.m., you’re going to the rink to set up the locker room. Put on the gloves…the gear still stinks!
MEDS AND MASSAGE TABLES
This one is complicated, because a vast knowledge of medicine, treatment and physical therapy is not only encouraged, it’s required. You also help with pretty much everything the equipment manager does late at night and early in the morning. The hours are similar.
You work closely with the team doctor, schedule appointments, surgeries and other procedures beyond routine treatment. When players are on injured reserve, you coordinate and monitor their rehab, conditioning and timetable for return. You document everything and report back to the league when players are out long-term.
Each day, you’ll brief the coaching staff on which players are banged up, who can play and who doesn’t feel good enough to go. Although it’s part of the game and out of your control, you take it personally when injuries are aplenty.
You fill ice bags, prepare heating pads, wrap wrists and ankles, help stretch the athletes on the training tables, conduct concussion tests when necessary, carry enough medicine with you to fill a small pharmacy and stay even-keeled at all times.
Players trust you. They respect you. They understand you’re only one person and sometimes treating five, six, seven players at a time. You’re always looking out for their best interest and health.
In the morning, you make sure all the players who are practicing are good to go first. When they take the ice for practice, you turn your attention to the injured guys. You spend the rest of the morning helping them with rehab and recovery, while occasionally checking on practice in case anyone gets hurt on the ice.
When the team heads home or back to the hotel for lunch and their pregame nap, you and the equipment manager usually never leave. You grab a quick lunch, if possible, and stay close to the rink. There’s too much to do before game time.
You tidy up your training room, get organized and fill out any paperwork that needs to get done. You help the equipment manager setup the locker room, fold socks and towels, and set up the bench with your travel pack of tools and medicines.
When the game starts, you’re helping anyone who gets dinged up over the course of the game, closely watching the play on the ice, and ready to act if there’s anything serious that happens.
If a player (or official) goes down and needs immediate attention, you sprint out to the ice to help right away. In a perfect world, nobody talks to you during the game. That’s your hope.
After the game, you treat the players who need it. You pass out ice bags, ibuprofen if needed and bandages. You wait until the last player is gone for the night.
In this example, we’re off on an overnight bus trip to the next stop. You help load the bus, share a row of seats with your travel medical bag just in case, and when we get to the team hotel to drop everyone off, you accompany the equipment manager to the arena to help set up the visiting locker room in the wee hours of the morning.
Sometimes you decide to just spend the night at the rink. You’ve learned the training table makes a nice alternative to a hotel bed.
If you’re not ready to make a decision, stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where we dive into some of the front office jobs to choose from. Surely there will be a role in that part of the hockey team that is worth trying.
Bird’s-Eye View is a Kalamazoo Wings blog, written by the team’s Director of Public Relations/Broadcaster John Peterson. The thoughts, opinions and behind-the-scenes stories are that of the writer alone and not a reflection of the organization as a whole. Fans are welcome to submit questions and ideas for future blog posts to email@example.com. Enjoy!