Monday, August 30, 2010

Coyotes Training Camp Diary (2003), Part Tres

Here's the third part of my Coyotes Training Camp Diary. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 9, 2003:

I walked in at 8:15 this morning and was greeted by Gord, saying "You equipment guys just show up whenever you want, after all the work is done." I thought I was there early enough to help fold the towels and pass out the laundry, but they beat me to it. It's okay, though...there'll be another load of laundry before long. I can't believe how much laundry they do around here. With 30 or so players and coaches running around here, there's always some laundry spinning. That's half again as many guys as we have at any one time, and the rookies aren't even here yet. They're expecting a total of about 60 players once the last of the veterans have shown up and the rookies return from camp in L.A. That's about 3 times as many as we're going to have in camp.

Stan's Assistant, Tony Silva, returned this afternoon with all the gear from the rookie camp. There isn't enough room for everybody in the locker room, so a bunch of the rookies have to go over into the visitors' dressing room. In addition, the first cuts have been made so a bunch of guys are being sent back to their junior teams or released. So, basically, there's about 15 or so new guys arriving from the rookie camp, and about 8-10 guys are picking up their gear and leaving. This is all in addition to the 30+ guys that are already here. Even with the 3 Coyotes equipment guys and me to help this was shaping up to be a pretty long day. In the middle of all of this, Shane Doan was just kind of hanging around. He had an appearance to do later in the day and didn't see any point in going home and then turning around and coming back. I can't say I blame him for that. So he's just hanging around and trying to stay out of our way. Apparently, sitting around watching other people work isn't really his thing, so he starts helping out. He's hanging gear, gathering up laundry, and pretty much doing anything else he sees that needs to be done. After a while he heads over to the pizza parlor in the lobby of the practice rink and comes back with a large pizza. He drops it on the table and tells us it's time to take a break. So we spend the next 20 minutes or so eating our pizza, having a soda and listening to Stan and Shane's stories. They've got a million of 'em.

I think this is why Shane Doan is the Captain of the Coyotes, and it's definitely why he's my favorite Coyote. He's the longest-tenured veteran on the Coyotes (he and Stan are the only 2 former Jets remaining since the move from Winnipeg), yet he's the first guy to lend a helping hand or just hang out and talk. He's stopped and chatted with me every day that I've been helping out and made me feel right at home.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003:

I set about my usual task of setting up the bench for practice, and then checked around the shower area and changing room for towels or any other laundry. I was accosted by Coyotes Defenseman Ossi Vaananen. This kid is always smiling. Not a normal, friendly smile...the kind of smile that makes you think he's up to something. I've decided that it's probably because he's always up to something. Every day that he's seen me in my Scorpions hat and/or t-shirt, he has serenaded me with his version of "No One Like You". I keep telling him that the German metal band has nothing to do with the hockey team that I work for, but he doesn't listen. He thinks he's pretty funny (and I'm inclined to agree with him).

Ossi's in Stan's doghouse today. He had to take his jersey to a promotion yesterday and apparently decided to stop off for Chinese food on the way home. I can't imagine what would have possessed him to wear his jersey while he ate, but he came in this morning with Orange Chicken sauce all over the front of his brand new white jersey. He fully expected to feel the full extent of Stan's wrath, but Stan just said "No problem" and took the jersey back to the laundry room. He pre-soaked it (with his special blend of detergent and pre-wash) and the stain lifted right out. No problem.

That's what I like about Stan. Nothing fazes him. This profession requires a person to be good at dealing with the unexpected. The ones who excel make it look routine. I'm reminded of the old adage about the duck on the pond. On the surface, the duck appears to glide along effortlessly. Under the surface, however, those little legs are flailing away like crazy. That's kind of what it's like to be an Equipment Manager. You have to maintain your presence of mind when everything goes wrong at once. Stan is a master at it.

He's also a master at his craft. I watched him make a pair of goalie thigh-boards for Brian Boucher's pads. The NHL passed a new rule requiring all goalie knee protection to fit underneath the pants. This means that the old style thigh-boards (like 90% of goalies wear) are now illegal. The old thigh-boards are commonly referred to as "cheaters" because they help goalies close up the 5-hole when they go down in the butterfly position. It's one of those new rules designed to increase scoring and frustrate goalies (they're also talking about increasing the size of the nets and decreasing the allowable width of goalie pads). So, Stan cut the thigh pads out of a pair of hockey pants, went to his sewing machine and attached elastic straps with Velcro closures and a piece of leather (with holes to lace them into the pads) to each one and "Presto"...a new pair of thigh pads that look like they came from the factory. I stood there and watched him do it all in about 15 minutes. It was really something to see. I guess that's why they pay him the big bucks.

Today's ice time was broken up into 2 sessions because of the number of players. Group A took the ice and went through a pretty thorough workout (considering it's an unofficial camp doesn't officially start until Friday). Then it was a mad scramble to reset the bench and clean up the room before Group B took the ice. This meant more laundry. On a day like this, the washers and dryers get more of a workout than the players do. They ran from morning to evening; as soon as one load finished, another one took its place. The training staff also did double-duty. One thing they didn't contend with today was boredom. More new players arrived and had to get geared up; and now there are about 50 players running around this place, and leaving a trail of laundry and towels everywhere they go. The staff really has their hands full. They earned their money today.

Monday, August 23, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2003), Part Deux

Here's the second part of my Coyotes Training Camp diary. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 4, 2003:

Today was mass confusion. The new gear came in with the new team colors, and all the guys who had already been suited up were exchanging their black pants and helmets and black, green and red gloves for the new red stuff. It was weird to see the Coyotes in all red gear. To add to the chaos, a few more guys showed up. Luckily, one of Stan's assistants returned from L.A. Jason Rudee had gone to help set up the rookie camp, then came back to help Stan. That left two guys to do the change-over while I set up the bench and helped out with the laundry. To make matters worse, all the players who were involved in the fashion show needed to have their skates sharpened after walking around on the stage in them. It reminded me of the team picture we took last season outside Blades. The picture came out great, but it was a huge pain to resharpen that many pairs of skates right before practice.

I met Tyson Nash today...I knew he was small, but I had no idea just how small. Like a lot of players, he looks bigger on TV with his equipment on. He had just arrived in Phoenix and was adjusting to the heat by walking around shirtless. This kid is built. He looks like a miniature Shaun Peet...that is, if Shaun Peet had Stephen Margeson's hair.

Monday, September 8, 2003:

After a weekend off, it was time to get back to work today. The Players haven't skated since Thursday, but they've kept busy with a slew of promotions all over the valley to promote the new look of the Coyotes.

I met one of the Ferraro brothers today...I think it was Peter (or was it Chris?). Oh, well...what's the difference? They're twins. The only apparent way to tell them apart is that Peter has a mole on his face (or was it Chris?). It's funny to watch these two in action. They look, sound, and act virtually alike (as one might expect twins to do). It's like somebody tried to clone the perfect hockey player twice...but 1/8 his size (just kidding). Anytime one of them gets something done with his equipment he shows it to his brother, who immediately has to do the exact same thing. They're ganging up on poor Stan, and I can tell they're driving him crazy. It reminds me of the movie "Multiplicity", in which Michael Keaton clones himself.

I haven't had much contact with Gord...his training room is on the other side of the facility (a pretty good hike in this place) and he's usually pretty busy over there. I have seen enough to know that he's very funny...he's always kidding around. I think he's made me laugh every time I've seen him. He walked into the equipment room with the new Trainer/Equipment Manager Directory, open to the CHL section. He said, "Who the hell are the New Mexico Scorpions?" loud enough for me to hear, knowing full well that I work for them. Later, he walked into the room carrying a couple of boxes he brought over from Receiving. He said, "It's okay, equipment guys, I've got it. Don't worry about anything, I can handle it." There's a sort of friendly, joking rivalry between Trainers and Equipment Managers. Members of each profession like to kid the other about who works harder, etc. I've seen it before, but Gord is a master at it.

I met Pat Conacher today. I should say I met him again today. We were introduced, but I had met him once before when he was playing for the Kings and I was working for the Phoenix Roadrunners, the Kings' IHL Affiliate. He was a great player. He played the game the way it should be played. He worked hard every shift and played smart. He's also a great guy. He's a Coach in the Coyotes' minor-league system now (He's coaching the team's AHL affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies).

Monday, August 16, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2003), Part 1

Hey there, readers! If you're hungry for a hockey fix, here's a little tidbit to hold you over. This is reposted from my MySpace blog:

During the summer of 2003, I spent a few days working with the Phoenix Coyotes at their training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona (It was the one good thing that came out of spending the blazing days of summer back home in Phoenix). I figured I'd take advantage of my team's affiliation with the Coyotes, so I contacted Stan Wilson, the Coyotes' Head Equipment Manager, and asked if he could use any help during training camp. The Coyotes held their rookie camp in Los Angeles, and the team's Assistant Equipment Managers went over there to take care of them, so Stan was basically left all alone to take care of the veterans who were skating in Phoenix. The Coyotes' Head Athletic Trainer, Gord Hart, and their Massage Therapist, Jukka Nieminen, help out around the locker room, but their primary job is taking care of the players' medical needs, while Stan is primarily responsible for everything the players wear. He invited me to come out and help him. I jumped at the opportunity to go and see how the NHL guys do things, and get a little hockey fix in the process. Of course, it also can't hurt to attain name recognition with the Coyotes' brass. In any case, I relished the opportunity to work with my hometown NHL team.

I kept a diary of my experiences there with the intention of getting it published in our game program that season, or maybe in our local newspaper. While that didn't happen, I came across this and thought some of my blog readers might be interested in it. Here's day one. If you like it, let me know and I'll break the rest of it into parts and post them here later on. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2003:

I made my way to the Alltel Ice Den, the practice home of the Phoenix Coyotes at about 8:15am. I found my way around to the player entrance and met up with Stan. I was in awe as soon as I walked through the door into the locker room. They have an unbelievable setup. Right down the hallway from the entrance is Stan's office and work area. It's twice the size of my work area in Stingley. He has a three-head sharpener, with two pneumatic riveters, one hand riveter, and a boot press on an adjacent counter. He has storage cabinets and counter space to work on around half of his room. He has a boot oven and a hydrocollator for breaking in new skates, and a huge storage cage for practice jerseys. All of this is in one room, and it's just a small part of the facility. He gave me the guided tour of the locker room, player's lounge, changing room, training room, coaches' offices, laundry room and storage room. There's even an extra locker room for visiting teams. It's incredible! Every room they have is at least twice as big as ours. Their equipment storage room is three times bigger than the one we had at the hockey pro-shop where I used to work; and it easily has more equipment in it. Their workout room is almost as big as the gym where our players work out, and it's adjacent to the training room. They have every type of workout equipment imaginable, and enough of them so that nobody has to wait to get on it. It's good to be in the NHL.

Stan showed me where everything was and asked me to set up the bench for practice. He was pretty busy taking care of the veterans that were getting ready for the morning's skate. Several new players arrived, and he had to set them up with their equipment. I met several of the players, including Landon Wilson, Shane Doan, and Brian Boucher. I also met Teppo Numminen, who was skating at the Ice Den for the last time (a former Coyote, he signed with Buffalo during the off-season). I found it amusing that he wore his Coyotes practice jersey inside out so he wouldn't be displaying the team logo.

I met Charlie Simmer, one of the Coyotes' broadcasters and a former L.A. King. He asked me who our Coach was, and when I told him it's Bill McDonald, a big grin crossed his face. He said, "Billy McDonald? From Thunder Bay?" Hockey sure is a small world. It turns out Charlie's from the next town over and has known Macker for years. He also told me that his nephew used to play for Macker, and it turns out that his nephew, Jesse Black played for Lubbock the year I worked there. So, I told him to tell Blackie I said "Hi", and he told me to say "Hello" to Macker for him.

I got to have a little "sneak preview" of the Coyotes' new uniforms. They're scheduled to be unveiled tonight at a local mall, and I was in the locker room when the PR people brought down the jerseys that the players were going to wear at the fashion show. It's a very different look...more traditional. The jerseys are brick red with white stripes, and a new coyote-head logo. I think they look pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Greetings from the Equipment Room

***Reposted from the "Venom Views" blog on

Howdy, Snakes fans! Smoke here. I thought I’d break the trend and come on here to Venom Views to announce that I’m not going to retire…not yet, anyway. I’ll be honest…I did give it some thought. Craig Stahl and I talked about retiring together, only half-jokingly. But after taking some time off I knew I wasn’t ready to walk away from the game just yet. I was planning to announce my decision during a prime-time special on ESPN, but it seems that Lebron stole my thunder. So I’ll have to make my announcement here in Venom Views that I’ll be returning for another season at the end of the Cottonmouths’ bench.

I want to thank everybody who came down to the Civic Center for our Locker Room Sale this past weekend. We had a pretty good turnout and sold quite a bit of equipment, which will help me make space in the Equipment Room for the new gear coming in. As many of you already know, the SPHL signed a new equipment sponsorship deal with Sherbrooke Hockey (SBK), and we will be buying sticks, gloves and pants exclusively from them. This means we had lots of Sherwood gear left over and I was trying to clear that out. We do still have some gear left, which we will probably try to sell at the CYHA Youth Hockey registration as we have in the past several years. We also have lots of Sherwood sticks I’d like to sell, so if you know anybody who needs hockey sticks, keep your eyes open for that event next month.

I’ve been keeping pretty busy this summer. I placed the order with SBK for our new pants and gloves back in May. After that, I completed my inventory and began working on my budget for the upcoming season. In mid-June I attended the PHATS/SPHEM conference in Fort Lauderdale. That’s the annual meeting of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers and Athletic Trainers. They have one of the best trade shows in the business, which offers a chance to see the new equipment and hear presentations from some of the equipment manufacturers. It’s also a great networking opportunity and a chance to catch up with old friends. At the Hall of Fame banquet I received an award for my 1,000th professional game worked. All in all, it was a pretty good week.

After the conference, I had a chance to return home to Phoenix for a visit with my family and friends, and a trip to Lubbock, Texas for our family reunion and a visit with my Grandmother. It was a long trip, but a good one. I got to reconnect with some people I hadn’t seen in a lot of years. After returning to Phoenix I spent about a week enjoying the dry desert air, got to take in a few Diamondbacks games (all of which they lost), and just generally tried to refamiliarize myself with the place where I grew up. I’m always amazed at how much it has grown each time I visit. I hardly recognize it sometimes, but I do miss it.

Now I’m back in Columbus for the remainder of the summer and I’m gearing up (so to speak) for another season of Cottonmouths hockey. We’re rapidly approaching my favorite time of year. Now that we’ve started signing players it’s time to start contacting the guys and finding out what sticks and skates they use so I can start putting together my orders. We’ll assign numbers for each of the guys and figure out which size jersey to give them. For the rest of the summer I’ll be placing and following up on orders and getting ready for training camp in October. Hockey season is right around the corner.

Finally, I’d like to take a moment to thank Craig Stahl for his time with the Cottonmouths. I’m going to miss Stahlsey every day at the rink. His love of the game, and of life in general, is infectious…and it will be missed. I worked with Stahlsey in New Mexico and he was a big part of my decision to come here 3 years ago. I had hit a low point in my career and was ready to walk away from hockey. I needed to rediscover the joy of the game, and Craig helped me do that. For that I am truly thankful.

Now, bring on the season! Go Snakes!