“My family had Minnesota Wild season tickets… I would go down to the glass to watch warm-ups and started catching myself looking to see what types of equipment the different players were using. At the Professional level they can mix and match brands of equipment. For example they could use Easton gloves and sticks and have a Bauer helmet, pants, and skates. I noticed the connection the players had with the equipment guys during warm ups and that those guys helped them with everything they needed throughout the game. Watching the Head Equipment Manager – Tony DaCosta and his assistants – Rick Bronwell and Matt Benz made me want to be them.“
That’s what Doug Jorgenson had to say when I asked him what got him interested in being an equipment manager. Doug currently does the job for the Dubuque Fighting Saints, the top-team in the United States Hockey League, who just swept the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the first round of the 2013 Clark Cup Playoffs. He goes on to say, “I love helping others and was never really great at sports where I could see myself making a career out of it, but still wanted to be part of a team. So being an equipment manager, you get the best of both worlds.”
Jorgenson has a degree in Sports Management from the University of Minnesota, where he was the assistant equipment manager, under Lee Greseth, for the Men’s Ice Hockey team. Being one of the best collegiate hockey teams in the country, there was a ton of competition for the job… but through persistence and not listening to the word “no”, he was able to get the position just prior to starting his Sophomore year.
So, what exactly DOES an equipment manager do? Well, Buffalo Sabres assistant equipment manager George Babcock says “nobody knows what we do unless we don’t do it.” Doug feels that sentiment is perfectly accurate, because nearly all their work is done behind the scenes. It’s their responsibility for each player to be safe each time they’re on the ice. Hockey is a hell of a fast game, and if your equipment malfunctions, you run the risk of being seriously injured, or seriously injuring someone else. First to the rink every day, and last to leave… that’s what it takes – nothing can be overlooked. “When we go on the road and everyone’s in their hotel rooms, I’m out finding a laundry mat or fixing or sharpening skates. There is a lot of responsibility that goes with the job but I think that’s what makes me take pride in what I do – you know you’re helping the team succeed and the players and coaches see the work you put in for them. If I forget a jersey or socks, we’re going to look pretty goofy out there.”
Laundry and sharpening skates is a large part of the job, but there’s also a lot of ordering of equipment and taking care of a budget. There’s a lot of sewing and small repairs to various types of equipment as well, along with polishing helmets and making sure the locker room looks good. There is some downtime, but when the time comes to fix a skate or custom-fit some protective equipment, you need to get it done right away. “In some ways it’s really different [playing in an opponent’s barn] because you don’t have the comfort that you’re used to when using your own equipment… but for the most part I have everything with me on the road so if something does happen I can fix it. Also, some places you go there is very little space or you’re stuck in a hallway, so that really makes you work in tight spaces and not have the luxury to the space we have here in Dubuque.“
Me: So what happens when the pressure mounts? Can you describe a “crisis situation” that you recently encountered?
Doug: We had a series in Muskegon, Michigan… playing the Lumberjacks in one of our first games this season. During the first period with 16 minutes left, Matt Benning (#5) came to me just before a shift and said his left skate didn’t feel right. I told him I’d look at it once the shift was over, and by then he couldn’t even put pressure on the skate. Apparently all the rivets had popped out, and the back two copper rivets in his heel had both broken off. At the next whistle I ran across the ice with him to the locker room to get it back together. When something like this happens you need to get the player back as soon as possible because he is a major part of our defense. Luckily I had the riveter out already because I fixed a rivet before the game – but I’d forgotten my box, and all my tools, on the bench! I ended up being able to pull all the rivets the rest of the way out and then put two new copper rivets in the back which are more secure. But wet skates don’t like to hold rivets very well because the insole of the boot is moist and not stiff. Normally a 25 minute job, I ended up putting all new rivets in and coppers under 4 minutes and had him back on the ice. It’s all about speed; you don’t want them to miss shifts.
Knowing that many NHL’ers are extremely picky about their sticks, skate blades, etc, I had to ask Doug who on the Fighting Saints is the most particular about their gear. He said that every guy is particular or superstitious about their gear because that’s just the nature of the game. Some guys won’t need skates worked on all week until game day, and other guys get them done every other day. He goes on to say, “Shane Sooth, our captain, is the least particular out of anyone on the team. You could give him a wood stick and a pair of old skates that may not even be his size, and he would still go out there every day and play like everyone else. It just all depends on player preference.”
One can argue that relationships are what life is all about, and I would agree with that on a large scale. That’s precisely why Doug loves what he does. “I love the connection I have with the players and the Coaching staff. I get to know everyone on a pretty serious level, and you build that connection, and trust, to where they know they can come to you with anything – even if it’s not a part of hockey.” He goes on to say, “I will do anything in my power to help any of our players or coaching staff out no matter what time of day. I love being a part of the team, and going to battle each night with these guys and seeing them develop throughout the year and work for one another… it’s pretty special. Everyone wants to be a champion at the end of the season, so you put in as much effort as possible to make sure that happens. I love what I do, and wouldn’t trade it for the world, even though you run on very low sleep.”
I took the liberty of asking some of the players about Doug’s role on the team as well. Center Evan Janssen said, “Dougie is a beauty, and an unbelievable guy to have around. He takes great care of us. Anything we need done, he’s on it right away. On average he probably sharpens close to 60 pairs of skates throughout the course of a week“. Forward Jarrid Privitera states that “He’s at the rink before any of us even wake up; he’s always working to benefit our team and make sure all our equipment is the way we need it in order to perform at our best. You can always count on Dougie to brighten up the mood and make the boys laugh. And come game time, he’s always aware of what’s going on the ice, so if we break a stick, he’s ready with our other one when we need it.”
Mike Szmatula says “He loves his job and the team. He’s always laughing and making us laugh… he is as important as any player, and we all love him.” John Stevens echoed the same things as the other players, but also added that “Doug brings a great attitude to the rink, and that makes you excited to come in every day.“
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