Behind the Bench

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A few months back our homie Mike popped by to pick up a few things and we got chatting about life as an Assistant Equipment Manager in the NHL. I have always been intrigued about the behind the scenes – be it professional sports or business – so when Mike casually threw out an invite to come down and check out the room sometime, I made a mental reminder. Little did he know I would actually take him up on it. So, after the Jets giant win over the Los Angeles Kings, Mike kindly took the time to walk me through the inner workings of the MTS Centre.

For those of us who know Flamer (Flame Shtick – a new one I wasn’t aware of) I think we can all agree that the guy is a class act. A prime example dates back to 2007. Over the course of 5 days, along with 38 of our homies, we organized and participate in a fundraising event dubbed Face Off for a Cure.

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The premise of the event was to play ball hockey as long as humanly possible and raise as much money for the Canadian Cancer Society as possible. The end result was a 5 day – 100 hour 2 minute game of ball hockey that temporarily secured our spot in the Guinness World Record book before we were beaten the following year. Short lived glory.

I vividly recall Mike out there in the rain and cold handling the shifts that went into the wee hours of the morning. The shifts no one wanted to participate in.

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Flamer started off as a volunteer with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL which, as we all know, would transition into the modern day Winnipeg Jets through years of persistence and determination by True North. Flamer started volunteering in the 2005-06 season and continued to volunteer for the next three seasons. During the 2008-09 season Flamer would go on full time and never looked back.

Today, along with a team that includes head equipment manager Jason McMaster and Assistant Equipment Manager Mark Grehan, Flamer ensures that the Jets are taken care of. This includes everything a hockey player requires to play the game. From skate sharpening, days worth of laundry, equipment repairs and maintenance, ordering equipment and transportation of equipment not to mention late airport runs to pick up and drop off the oppositions equipment managers and every other task required to successfully run day to day operations.

For 82 regular season games along with a sprinkling of pre-season games, development camps and training camp this trio ensures everything goes off without a hitch. I think the hardest part would be staying on top of each players preferences. You see these guys changing skates and sticks all the time. I can only imagine the difficulty of staying on top of this for a full roster of particular players. The job often entails 11-12 hour days but that doesn’t really seem to phase Flamer. It’s clear everyone has one goal. Winning. So time at the rink is time well spent for Flamer and company.

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I admire people that find their true callings so early, who are passionate about what they do and do it with such tenacity. I figure Flamer must be doing a pretty solid job if he can secure his mug on Ondřej Pavelec lid. In the cockpit of the Jet with a giant smile which makes sense as they are clearly navigating their way to the Palomino Club. Booty Shake Mondays?

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One of the first stops was the locker room. It smelt like ass but I guess that is what victory smells like. A reminder that these guys don’t take what they do lightly, leaving it out there every night. Fans were on blast to get everything aired out for the next mornings skate. Down the hall the washing machines rumbled away, cycling through countless Gatorade towels that a team of guys were folding while prepping for the next days morning skate. Down the hall Maurice and company were plugging away on what I imagine were post game activities, preparation for Wednesday tilt against Ottawa, and maybe a bit of trade deadline banter after the acquisition of NHL veteran and former Goldman Sachs intern Lee Stempniak. Video coach Matt Prefontaine was in the lab watching game tape all whilst the MTS Centre sat eerily quiet. Contrasting an hour prior when the Jets picked up two crucial points against the defending champs.

Next time you’re at a Jets game or watch a game on TV, take note of the crew behind the bench that ensure everything runs smooth behind the scenes. There are a lot of people that make this ship sail. From the training staff to the medical personnel and the coaching staff.