The Kraken hockey operations group gets stronger, bigger and better prepared for the 2021-22 season. Click here to view the article on NHL.com
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To all PHATS and SPHEM Members,
We hope this finds everyone doing well during these unprecedented and uncertain times. Hard to believe that seven months have passed since all of our seasons were impacted by the Covid-19 global pandemic. We are hopeful that everyone is using this time to take care of their families and themselves. This has been a very trying and unpredictable time in our personal and professional lives.
We applaud all of those who participated in the NHL Playoffs. We know the “Bubble” life was not easy and many sacrifices were made.
It seems now that we are all anticipating news regarding the start to our respective seasons. As we wait for our leagues to make those decisions, we feel it may be helpful to prepare the best you can so when the time comes the transition may be a little easier. We are sympathetic that many teams have restrictions in place regarding compensation, budgets and ordering supplies and equipment.
The “normal” we once knew is changed for the immediate future. The way we do our jobs have changed as well. Many of us have new added responsibilities placed upon us. We will all get through these difficult times. We like to think that if we “expect the unexpected”, it will help adapt and improvise when the time comes.
We remain hopeful and continue planning for the annual conference at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa, June 13-19, while remaining watchful of this unique situation. We are continually monitoring state and local regulations and best practices of our industry (exhibitions, meetings and events). We assure you that we are considering all options, and nothing is more important than everyone’s health and safety.
We look forward to finally being able to honor Peter Millar as this year’s PHATS-SPHEM Hockey Hall of Fame inductee.
Peter spent 11 years with the Edmonton Oilers as their Head Athletic Therapist winning four Stanley Cups. After leaving Edmonton, he landed in Los Angeles as the Head Equipment Manager for the Los Angeles Kings. Peter spent the next 17 years in that position before moving on to his current position as Pro Services Rep with Warrior Hockey. All in all, Peter has dedicated the last 43 years of his life to the world of professional hockey.
As always, we would be remiss by not acknowledging the tremendous efforts of Antia Ramsay and Natalie Grant. They have continued to work through the “pause” and have implemented many new upgrades. These include a new website design, online directory membership, sponsorship and advertising opportunities and help support continuing education programs virtually.
We look forward to being able to get together with all our members and valued vendors this year in Phoenix.
Best of luck to everyone and stay safe, as we look forward to getting our season’s started.
Darren and Chris
Dave Williams, Head Equipment Manager, Buffalo Sabres
SPHEM: What got you started in the equipment profession and how did you get your start in Professional Hockey?
DW: I attended SUNY Plattsburgh and the hockey coach, Bob Emery, asked me if I would like to be the student equipment manager for the team in the 1992 season. The team bought a sharpener, riveter and a Sport-O-quip trunk and I basically learned the job as I went. Plattsburgh has always had a strong program and being a part of it is something I will always cherish. After graduating in 1995 with a business management degree I really had nothing planned. I worked for the hockey shop in Rochester NY, Locker Room Sports, among other jobs. In November of 95 I received a call from the head coach of the ECHL Knoxville Cherokees, Barry Smith. The equipment manager quit 7 games into the season. A player on Knoxville was a former teammate at Plattsburgh and he recommended me for the job. The offer was $350 a week, an apartment and a place to eat whenever I wanted to. I stunned my parents when I hung up and said I’m moving to Tennessee. I was with the team a few days later, and my first day was a game day. They had an EZ Sharp skate machine. I had only ever used a Blademaster. Let’s just say the first few pairs may have needed a redo.
SPHEM: You have been with the Sabres organization since 2005. What was the transition like coming from their AHL affiliate the Rochester Americans?
DW: It was the first year after the NHL labor stoppage. There were many things being reevaluated around the entire hockey landscape. A few other teams equipment guys and trainers made the jump up that season. But I had been with Rochester since 1998 so I had worked many training camps in Buffalo. I was familiar with the players, staff and arena. We had a good team that year, came close to making the finals. Many good memories.
SPHEM: You worked very closely with Sabres long-time Head Equipment Manager Rip Simonick. What is a lesson or piece of advice he’s given you that you feel gave you the most growth in your career?
DW: Because Rip has been a part of all 50 years of Sabres hockey there are very few people around the league that haven’t heard of him. He has introduced me to so many people I may have never had the opportunity to know. His passion for the Buffalo Sabres and the game of hockey is something that is and was felt by players, staff and family. So his acceptance of me to be added to the staff and work along side of him has been the lesson. And if you know Rip, you know he is a great story teller. I still learn something everyday.
SPHEM: This year saw the unprecedented pause to the NHL season. What was that like for you in Buffalo?
DW: We were in Montreal the day the work stoppage began. I got notified the game was cancelled before pregame skate, and of course everyone was on alert wondering what we were going to do. Staff went back to the hotel, as me, George and Ben started packing up. We had no plane in Montreal at the time to fly home with, but I still needed to contact Montreal’s truck guy Pierre and explain he needed to be ready, eventually we were leaving. We ended up flying home that night at 7PM. In the beginning everyone felt like we would see each other after the weekend. Well come Monday morning news hit that the borders may be closing, so like every where else, we had a quick team pack up and let players take their gear home. We were not part of the NHL restart so things in Buffalo have been quiet this Summer and Fall.
SPHEM: The 2020-2021 season is hopefully starting in January of 2021. With all the uncertainty of these times, how do you prepare for the season?
DW: When ever the next season begins Buffalo will be wearing a new uniform, so that has kept me busy ordering and receiving new uniforms and apparel. As for player specific items I have been only ordering things that I know we can still use whether we start in January or next Fall. Mostly stock product. When custom items are necessary, I have cut normal quantities down by 50%. Once I know a hard restart date, then I will get things ordered as usual.
When possible, I have requested longer net terms for invoicing. I do foresee challenges when we realize an official start date. Companies will be flooded with orders, and players will be looking to get back up to speed as well. But after living through these past 7 months, I would like to think everyone will be happy that were back to working and a small delay may not seem so monumental.
SPHEM: You serve on SPHEM’s Executive Committee as Treasurer. Why was it important to you to get involved and how has it benefited you?
DW: I have been attending meetings since 1995. I can remember being in the opening meeting in Orlando that year and the group was speaking about starting a joint venture committee. Creating SPHEM on its own to work along side PHATS. I had zero idea what was even happening. Too think now I am sitting up front at that meeting is still a little surreal.
But now I have seen the evolution of both societies. We have come along way. And when I was approached by Pete Rogers a few years back to start assisting with the education seminars and the golf tournament I was happy to give it a try. I have enjoyed it so far. Now as treasurer it has allowed me to reach out to the entire NHL SPHEM membership with more than just hockey talk. I’ve also learned a few things about corporate taxes, truly exciting stuffJ.
SPHEM: PHATS/SPHEM is gearing up to host our conference in 2021. With the cancelation of our 2020 meeting in mind, what did you miss most about this year’s conference and what are you looking forward to in 2021?
DW: Well…as treasurer, let me say the cancellation of the 2020 meeting has impacted our entire way of thinking. Plans, schedules, dates, budgets, communications all being reevaluated and possibly tweaked one way or another. So, what did I miss most? I would say the entire normal conference. As for 2021 in Phoenix, I hope we can continue to grow our attendance and provide ways for our members and vendors to work and socialize.
SPHEM: Do you have a professional mentor or Equipment Manager you admire?
DW: I think there is something unique in all of us that work in sports. None of us want to miss family and friends, or go to bed at 3am and up at 6, etc. But we all have a dedication to our craft. And I admire people that take pride in their work and put in the time to be at there best.
So, when we recognize members for 3000+ games or vendors for 30+ years, I really appreciate what it took, not only putting in the time, but dealing with the many ups and downs one would have experienced in a career of sports.
SPHEM: What is one thing other Members would be surprised to know about you?
Well, I do not consider myself to have done anything special. However, I do take pride in working in the NCAA, ECHL, AHL and NHL.
Tell us about yourself, your family and your hobbies.
I enjoy learning about investing and the stock market. Someday I would love the chance to run my own business or rental property. I am from Rochester, NY and still live there today. My wife Tammy and I have a son Maxwell, he is a Senior and a daughter Marni, she is a Sophomore. During the Summer we enjoy using our jet ski and traveling around upstate NY. If I can find the time in the Fall, I enjoy hunting.
All photos courtesy of Dave Williams
Andy Hosler, Head Athletic Trainer, Nashville Predators
PHATS: What made you want a career in the athletic training profession and how did you get your start?
AH: During undergrad, I was watching a Red Wings game and saw “some guy” run out due to an injured player being down on the ice. I thought how great it would be to be able to watch hockey for a living. I was also leaning towards the medical profession which led me to athletic training/sports med.
PHATS: You’ve had 15 years of experience in Professional Hockey but come from a background of working with athletes in many different sports. What are the advantages of working with all different types of athletes?
AH: I always knew I wanted to end up working in hockey but was required to be exposed to a lot of sports during undergrad. I came from a small internship program and I wanted to work as much as I could, which put me working multiple teams. Being in a small program was conducive to having the ability to work multiple sports over a semester. I think the advantage is seeing different types of injuries and working with different types of athletes. Some things I have picked up from other sports have been useful for my current position.
PHATS: Nashville finished up their 2019-2020 season in the “Bubble”. What surprised you most about life in the bubble?
AH: I think the biggest surprise was how well it was managed up there. The chaos leading into the bubble was a bit overwhelming at times, but once there, the Docs in Edmonton did a great job and it seemed a bit easier. We were able to focus more on hockey and less on COVID policies and procedures.
PHATS: Will you change how you prepare for the 2020-2021 season as a result of the time you spent in the Bubble?
AH: I don’t think I would change much of my preparation. I think it’s a matter of feeling a bit more at ease because we, as an organization, have gone through it already. I think knowing that things change quite rapidly puts me in a different mindset. Going with the flow more often then sticking with a plan. I may be more fluid with my planning, knowing that it may change.
PHATS: Nashville is a favorite city to visit for many! When the season and travel resume what would you recommend a visiting staff does if they have some time to see the sites?
AH: With COVID I have avoided anything to do with crowds and found outdoor areas a bit more appealing. The obvious answer is whatever new Country Bar has opened on Broadway but I’m a big fan of Radnor Lake, Edwin Warner, and Centennial Park (the Parthenon). If you’re into Country Music, the Country Music Hall of Fame is a must or even a tour of Ryman Auditorium is pretty cool too.
PHATS: For those just starting out as athletic trainers, what is the best piece of advice you were given when you began your career?
AH: Athletic Training has changed so much over the years even since I started 20 years ago. One thing I learned fast when starting out is to be seen and not heard, work hard and don’t complain about the grind. I was also told to only take positions that will challenge you and advance your skills verses just taking something that seems appealing but potentially mind-numbing.
PHATS: What advances in your profession have been the most beneficial to you?
AH: The biggest advancement in my skills have occurred because I had to deal with things that I have never experienced. Being in the position of not knowing how to deal with something created quick learning situations that have stuck with me over the years. In regards to courses; I’d say Dr. Ma’s Integrated Dry Needling Course was a game changer.
PHATS: Do you have a professional mentor or Athletic Trainer you admire?
AH: One of my first Hockey Mentors was Dave Carrier, previous Michigan State Hockey ATC. He helped me through a lot of situations while in the minors. Dan Redmond, my previous boss in Nashville, taught me a lot about the NHL. We didn’t see eye to eye all the time but I built a lot of my knowledge base off of what he did all of those years. I admire many NHL ATCs, especially the guys that have extended past the 20-30 year mark. I find that pretty amazing as the grind seems heavier each year. I have had a lot of other mentors during my transition into being an NHL Head ATC that have given sound advice over the years and am grateful for it.
PHATS: What is one thing other Members would be surprised to know about you?
AH: An odd, somewhat uninteresting fact is that I built and developed a Self-Filtering Hydrocollator that is still patent pending and likely will never officially be patented due to manufacturer interest and expense.
Tell us about yourself, your family and your hobbies.
I’ve been married since 2012 and have a 7 and 2-year-old. I enjoy building/home projects and woodworking. Love golf and beer league hockey but haven’t done it much over the years. I’ve also gotten into Fantasy Football over the last few years.
All photos courtesy of Andy Hosler
Never Saw that Coming
By John Doolan
We have all had our lives turned upside down since last February. I would like to share a few insights from alumni members on how they took on the pandemic and adjusted their lives in an attempt to prevail.
As a retiree, my day-to-day life did not change as drastically as I am sure yours did. My Social Security and Pension came in as usual. My wife worked from home, her being home is a plus as she did not have to commute, and I can get on her nerves more often.
In early March, my wife and I did the “Snowstorm” stock up. TP, bread, milk and other goods to get us through what we hoped would be a safe quarantine. Our last day out was March 13th. We hunkered down and cleaned out the freezer and pantry, ordering just once from a grocery delivery service, for the next 12 weeks. Yes, we did not leave our home for 3 months. We then began to make trips to grocery shops and an odd trip to other stores for items we needed. “Cabin Fever” is an understatement, but if you could ask those souls we have lost, I am sure they would change places in a heartbeat.
Please enjoy the synopsis from 3 members who battled through the lockdown and how their business platform changed. The third member is still working hockey in Sweden. His experiences both as far as the team’s struggles and protocols should be an insight into life in Europe as we adjusted ours in North America. Their inputs were submitted the first week of October.
Chris Phillips is an Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach who spent 17 years in pro hockey including 8 years in the NHL with the Ducks and Capitals. Orange County, CA
When I left professional sports to open up my own sports performance and rehab facility, I didn’t realize how much there was to learn about running a business. As an Athletic Trainer in the NHL, you run things all the time. You do your normal job, but then have to manage budgets, manage reporting systems, develop protocols, etc. How hard is it to run a business, right? Well, a lot harder than I thought, but still rewarding and happy I did it. Then Covid hit! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still happy I own my own business, but Covid added another issue to deal with. The good news is we are surviving. I had to take a step back and look at how the business runs and how I can make it better and more profitable. Being shut down for basically six weeks and still working at a limited capacity seven months later gave me some time to re-assess the business and my life to make them better. The biggest thing I committed to was decreasing the amount I work personally. In pro sports, we are used to working hours upon hours a day without days off. I brought that work effort to my business, which helped it grow and become successful, but at what expense? I have a great staff that can more than handle the workload. Having faith in them and utilizing their expertise has allowed me to spend time building the business more as well as streamlining it. It also allows me to enjoy life a little more by having time to do things I usually would not have time for. I have a staff, colleagues, friends and Covid to thank for that. My advice for you is to take this down time and take a step back to re-assess what you are doing and how you can make your life more rewarding and enjoyable while still doing the great job we always do.
Chris also added some of the daily protocols that he has instituted at his facility. They mirror many that you and your team have probably put in place:
- Daily staff log in with temperature check and symptom checklist
- All staff and clients to wash or sanitize hands frequently including before and after each session
- Masks are to be worn when clients or staff cannot maintain a minimum of 6 feet of social distance
- No equipment will be shared and all equipment sanitized after use
- Staff or clients are asked to stay home if they have any symptoms or a fever of 100.4 or above
- Limit capacity in facility to allow for social distancing
Gus Thorson is Owner/Operator Breakaway Sports Repair, Calgary. Alberta
Around Thursday, March 12, 2020, there was the first-reported positive case of COVID-19 reported by a player in the men’s Rec-League in our facility. We, as a business, decided that we would stay open through the weekend, and then close temporarily. All of our staff were laid off effective March 15.
By Monday March 16, the Province of Alberta ordered closure of many business, including all Arenas and sports facilities. Our business income dropped to Zero. Our rent was deferred for 3 months.
Personally, my family and I quarantined of “Self-Isolated” for fourteen days, because we
worried that I may have had contact with the person(s) that had had positive tests.
Luckily, we all were symptom free.
For the next 3 months I spent time with only my wife and son who still lives at home. We went walking several times a day, went for drives around the province, played cards and games as a family, played video games and streamed almost every movie and series that Netflix had to offer. I also learned some new skills. My son and I mastered home-made baked pretzels, banana bread and oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. This was actually a bit of a much needed mental and physical break for me, since I had only had about four days off in the previous 4 months.
Mid-May I asked and received permission from our landlord to offer curb-side repairs and sharpening. I finally had something to get me out of the house, for a few hours each day. We advertised on Social Media and began taking appointments May 12th. For the last 2 weeks of May, and the first 11 days of June, we generated under $1000.00 in revenue. It wasn’t much but it was something.
The Province of Alberta mandated that arenas could re-open, under certain precautions and restrictions, on June 12th. We had prepared for this in advance, and needed only a quick inspection from our landlord and received permission. We re-opened, with a reduction in our weekly business hours of about 50%.
All of our staff were either working other jobs, doing online education, or collecting government benefits, so we did not bring any staff back other than myself. Our revenue for the rest of the month was about 60% of the same month the previous year.
We continued “9 to 5” daily until mid-August, and sales were a bit better. Revenue for the period was down by about 20%, but things were on the way up.
Mid-August we brought one staff member back, for 40 hours a week. Business hours were back to about 90% of regular. Two of the four sheets of ice were opened. Revenue crept up to about 80% of “normal”.
After Labour Day we were able to re-open to our full regular hours, and all four sheets of ice were “Open”. All of our staff that wanted to return were re-hired. Two had taken other full-time employment and we hired one new staff member.
Since then, business has been steady, but not busy. There is still much uncertainty about what is happening. Many people are finding other options, or not returning to the rink until things become more “normal”. Sales are down from previous periods, about 70% of normal.
We are all thankful for the fact that we are healthy, working, and paying our bills.
Rob “Doogie” Flahiff is a trainer with Liksands IF of the Swedish Hockey League.
Here in Sweden, we have one of the most liberal social contact / lock down policies in Europe. We currently have no mask mandate or forced isolation. All guidelines, however are subject to change for better or worse on short notice.
That said, we are soldiering along with social distance guidelines set forth by the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation and pushed hard by our league, the SHL.
These rules are for the most part common sense. If you are not feeling 100% healthy, contact the medical team and immediately start self-isolation until instructed otherwise; plenty of physical distance in dressing rooms, hallways, transportation, etc.; plenty of handwashing and cleanliness. Testing is done on a case-by-case basis. The team just recently received our own quick testing kits and we will see what guidelines are used for those.
A lot of the daily routine is still in place, but one noticeable difference is the game outside of the dressing room. Even though we have liberal social policies for the virus, this does not extend to allowing public gatherings or spectators at matches. We are currently limited to a total of 50 spectators regardless of building capacity.
As a result, a smaller club like ours is surviving through our TV rights and the largess of some sponsors, (including CCM being one of our bigger sponsors). At the current clip, we are losing around 100k USD per night on lost gate / associated revenue.
Everyone in the organization, including the players. have taken a significant pay cut to offset the lost revenues. Things are stretched pretty thin, but we all realize that it could be and still could be much worse. The danger is that if we don’t have a significant improvement in total infection numbers in all of Swedish society, we will not be able to open for more spectators.
We, like the entire world need to work together to get through this mess and stay hopeful for a significant improvement, a functional vaccine, or an outright cure.
By Alex Menezes, Asst. Equipment Manager, Ottawa Senators
As we all know 2020 has been kind of a strange year, from ending our hockey seasons in mid March to watching a Stanley cup being raised in October, in a Bubble, who would have thought.
Some of you reading this may or may not know me, I am a proud member of the Ottawa Senators equipment staff alongside John Forget, Ian Cox and Bram Karp. Unfortunately for the Senators we were part of the 7 NHL teams who did not get to participate in the return to play in Toronto and Edmonton. With our rink in Ottawa being closed and a work from home mandate from our team it gave us a lot of free time. On July 1st I received a call from Rich Villani of the NHL asking if I was interested in lending a hand in the Toronto Bubble with the day to day operations of the event. With the permission of our General Manager Pierre Dorion and the Senators HR department I accepted the invitation. Rich put me in contact with JR Boyle of the NHL’s operations department and soon after we got the ball rolling.
I was informed that I was going to be working alongside some old friends and familiar faces. David Roper from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Andrew Koch from the
Newfoundland Growlers, Tom Burns from the Toronto Marlies and Chris Cook from the Kingston Frontenacs whom I had previously worked with in Ottawa. We also had support from NHL front office staff members Mike Chute, Nicolas Torchia and Vince Granieri.
Before we were allowed in the Bubble, we all had to have 3 negative Covid tests. So, on July 25th after getting all my tests done, I headed over to Toronto not really sure what to expect. My first phone call was to David who had been in the Leafs facilities for weeks leading up to the start of the event. David was the point guy for the League and all 12 teams and our crew’s team leader. He informed me that we were going to have a lot of work and that all together we would establish a system, schedule, and routine for our day to day operation.
On day one I got familiar with the facilities, one being Ford Performance Center and the other the game rink, Scotia Bank Arena. With 12 teams coming in and setting up shop it was a lot of information to take in. With each team having one full practice day and the following day exhibition games, we truly hit the ground running. We all know how a game day can be extremely busy with two teams in one building now picture 12 teams in 2 buildings with not 1, not 2, but 3 games a day.
The first few days in the Bubble we all logged in about 18 to 19-hour days averaging about 35,000 steps. From helping teams load in and out of the practice rink to the game rink, getting the game rink ready for a game, laundry for 12 teams, it was quite the grind.
It was interesting to see how other teams operated. We were so used to our own routines in Ottawa. But getting a different point of view, tips and tricks, really helped bring new ideas to Ottawa. Having 3 games a day with teams also practicing at FPC was the most challenging part I would say. With 4 dressing rooms at SBA it meant helping a lot of teams move in and out of the building while also getting ready for the following game. All in all, the guys worked extremely hard and every single staff member from each team would all chip in; equipment, medical, strength, video, League staff, and I even saw some coaches from teams help push trunks down to the truck. In the end, I logged 61 games in 40 days.
The NHL did a fantastic job putting this event together in such short notice. Everything from daily Covid testing to setting up the Clear app, the sanitation crews who worked both facilities, transportation, security – it was impressive to see it all happen so flawlessly. On the rare occasion that we had a day or evening off, the League also had set up tons of things to do at Hotel X and BMO field with a few restaurants to chose from which was nice.
I truly enjoyed the opportunity I had to work in the Bubble. The seven weeks I was in there felt like one. I got to work with other equipment managers from other teams and League staff. I learned a lot and was part of something very unique. Special thanks to David Roper for his patience and time being the point. This would not have run so smoothly without ya By. Thank you, Andrew Koch, Tom Burns, Chris Cook, Mike Chute, Nicola Torchia, Vince Granieri and all the equipment managers for their hard work. I also want to thank Rich Villani and JR Boyle for giving me this opportunity.
Till next time,
By Grace Heidinger
It has been almost eight months since the world was hit by the coronavirus. For the sport’s world, that meant no live games, tournaments, or championships during this time. However, since then, the pause on sports has been lifted, but the industry is still facing challenges as a result of the global pandemic.
Starting from the ground up, students who are studying to pursue a career in the sports media industry are struggling to get their feet wet through experience. Between the lack of live events and the increased COVID regulations, internship and other experience-related opportunities are limited.
This career field needs experience and the COVID restrictions do not allow for that to happen. Kailey Lane, a junior at Duquesne University studying Sports Information and Media, is one of the many students facing these various challenges.
“I hope to go into broadcasting and right now it’s extremely hard to find live sports events that are taking interns to gain the valuable experience I need to eventually land a job with a sports team,” she said.
On campus, Lane is involved with the Duquesne Student Radio and is the journalism chair for the Sports Marketing Association. Her time on campus is ticking down, which means so is the time to get hands on experience through her campus involvement.
“When recording for the Duquesne Student Radio, only one person can record at a time so I can’t get the experience of working with others in the booth,” she said.
As for her position with the Sports Marketing Association, her main role is to write stories that are then published in a bi-weekly newsletter. Again, because of the COVID restrictions, Lane cannot interview people in person which effects the flow of the interview and the content she is looking for.
“Not being able to meet people in person makes it all the more difficult to get the content I need without the in person feel and personal connection of normal interviews,” she said.
Lane’s love for sports, especially hockey, is noticed outside of the classroom too, as she has been a Boston Bruins season ticket holder for three years. From the fan’s perspective, the energy of a live, in person hockey game and the overall atmosphere in the arena is greatly missed.
“Nothing can compare to the feeling when you’re at your home arena, rooting for your home team, and the crowd erupts at the sight of a goal,” she said.
Professionals in the industry have similar feelings towards the challenges and uncertainty surrounding sports as Lane does. As a sport anchor for KDKA-TV Pittsburgh, Bob Pompeani was directly affected by COVID regulations because media cannot go into locker rooms to do interviews, which makes it harder to get stories.
“At the beginning of this, we went 4.5 months without any competitive sports, so we had to get creative, which is why we started Living Room Sports, which just won a national award,” he said.
During this time, watching games live quickly turned into watching them from behind a screen. While Pompeani has been able to still go into the studio every day, it took some adjusting to get used to this “new normal.”
“We cover games now only from watching television. Very few people are allowed in press boxes, so we watch just like you watch at home, although we have to log every play, as we do call-in shows, which requires answering questions, and you never know what type of questions you’re going to get,” he said.
After 4.5 months of no events or no sports, fans are starting to see sports back on television and are even starting to fill the seats in some stadiums. While the NFL is in mid-season, the NHL is preparing for what is to come for the upcoming season. The NHL successfully crowned a champion with no coronavirus cases and more importantly, no positive tests. But what does this mean for next season?
“Next season WILL include fans, because the NHL needs gate revenue more so than any other sport, so I suspect there will be limited crowds to start, but they will increase as time goes on,” Pompeani said.
Staying optimistic, Pompeani has high hopes for next season because of the NHL’s outstanding planning in conjunction with their players this past season to keep everybody involved safe, while still being able to enjoy hockey.
“I believe sports as well as society will get back to normal sooner rather than later,” he said.
The global pandemic has forced other reporters in the industry to adjust to this new normal, both on and off the field. Multimedia journalist for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, Maddy Glab is finally back working at the Bills Stadium after working at home for five months. When the pandemic started, Glab made the decision to work primarily with the Bills because the Sabres missed the NHL bubble.
“When this hit, it was the off season for the Bills, so we weren’t directly impacted when the virus hit because they didn’t have to put a pause on a season,” she said.
Glab attended the NFL combine at the end of February and within a few weeks, everything shut down. While people might assume there would be less work when working from home, this is not the case for her. Social media got stronger with more people at home which called for more written content, photos, and videos for social media posts.
“It was important to put content out to people on social media to distract people, keep them occupied, and to put a smile on their faces,” she said.
When Glab’s focus shifted towards the Bills, her main task was holding interviews with the players and coaches… but through Zoom. Missing out on the face to face interaction with the players, Glab also misses out on social cues, which makes any interview more difficult and less personal.
“During a regular year, there would be an open locker room to interviews players face to face but this year, starting with the NFL Draft and Free Agency, all of my interviews are via Zoom,” she said.
Glab’s first season with the Bills was spent adapting to the new Buffalo atmosphere and now this season, she is adapting to all the new COVID regulations. Currently in her second year, Glab feels that she can’t really get to know any of the players or staff because of the lack of in-person meetings and interviews.
“It almost feels like the first year because you can’t build strong relationships, but don’t get me wrong, I am still glad that there is a Bills season,” she said.
As host of the Bills postgame show, Bills Tonight, Glab gathers all the necessary game content for the show by watching the game from the control room in the stadium, not on the field like she would be normally.
“It’s definitely more difficult because I don’t get that live look in or even a view from the press box where many other reports are watching the game from,” she said.
At the end of the day, Glab and other employees of the Buffalo Bills understand how much work the NFL has done to make the season happen. The NFL has been very strict under COVID protocols and this goes for everybody in the building, not just the players.
“There is a mutual trust, respect and understanding for each other and in order to make this happen, everybody knows how important it is to be safe about it,” she said.
When in the stadium, social distancing and masks are required. To enforce this, employees wear contact tracers so whenever someone comes within six feet of another person, it beeps. And to prevent the spread, everybody gets tested everyday where the testing acts almost as a security blanket for everybody working in the stadium,
“We believe in the players, coaches, and their goal in mind so it is easy to live safe and make sacrifices because we know what’s at stake,” she said.
Already seeing positive tests spread from one NFL team to the next makes the upcoming NHL season an even bigger uncertainty. Pete Rogers, Equipment Manager for the Nashville Predators, travelled with the team to Edmonton and lived in the NHL bubble for 2.5 weeks until the Predators got eliminated. Working in this new atmosphere was new for Rogers, players and other staff that was able to travel with the team.
“Players were split up into small groups for practices, they had to do their own laundry, cleaners were constantly sanitizing in between skating sessions and outside of the rink, everything was done in the confines of the hotel,” he said.
Edmonton was home to 12 NHL teams who were spread out between three hotels and at the rink, between six locker rooms. Their days started at 6 A.M. by filling out a health questionnaire survey, followed by a COVID test which grew to be their everyday routine. All meals took place within the confines of the hotel, either at the hotel restaurants or at the Tim Hortons, Italian, or taco food trucks that surrounded the hotel. The only time a team would leave the bubble would be to practice at a practice rink, which happened every nongame day.
“There were so many moving parts to deal with, especially with both the practice and regular game schedules, but the NHL had everything organized for everybody in the bubble,” he said.
Even though the days were long, this experience is something that everybody who lived in the bubble will never forget. For Rogers, the best part of this experience was talking to former players, coaches, and equipment managers from other teams.
“It was completely normal to see players from other teams throughout the hotel, in fact I think I saw James Neal in the elevator or the lobby 5-6 times,” he said.
In hockey, when the season ends, a switch gets shut off and everybody goes into summer mode. Within 3-4 days of getting home from Edmonton, the players had all of their equipment packed up and were on their way back home. Some players started skating about three weeks after returning from the bubble, which for Rogers means going to their practice facility four days a week.
“In preparing for next season, whatever that may bring, I work out of my office at the practice facility and for now, work entails sending jerseys out to our new players,” he said.
One thing that a fan, multimedia journalist, sports anchor, and equipment manager all have in common is wondering what’s going to happen with the upcoming NHL Season. With COVID cases starting to rise again, Rogers doesn’t see how they can start the season without a bubble.
“On the NHL’s end, this is a difficult task to put together, especially with the border closed. While the bubble worked for the playoffs and teams getting eliminated as the weeks went on, I don’t know if it’s possible to do a huge bubble for all 31 teams,” he said.
At the end of the day, viruses come and go, but so do sports seasons. The challenge of finding a balance between keeping everybody healthy, while still providing entertainment through sports creates this uncertainty. And so, many questions still remain… will there be another bubble? Will fans be filling the seats in arenas? When will the season start?
Mike Poirier, Asst. Athletic Trainer and Rob Kennedy, Asst. Equipment Manager with this year’s Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning take us into the Bubble from day one in Tampa to 91 days later hoisting the Cup in Edmonton!
How long where you in the Bubble?
MP: For me personally, 91 days. I entered the Waterside Marriott in Tampa on June 29, so I spent 27 nights in a hotel in Tampa, prior to going to Toronto and then to Edmonton.
RK: I was in the actual Bubble for 65 days. However, my family left for MI on June 21st. So, I was basically self-isolating at home for the month prior to going into the Bubble. I believe we went 101 days without seeing each other.
Early on in the Bubble, did teams/training staffs interact with each other?
MP: After a mandatory 5-day team only quarantine, we were allowed to interact; in fact, it felt like I was at a PHATS convention. We should have gotten CEU’s! We were all running into each other whether at the game rink/practice, rink/ hotel. There was so much movement due to the volume of games and practices.
RK: It was nearly impossible not to interact with each other. Like Mike said, we were pretty limited the first 5 days. But, after that, with all the constant movement and being in the same hotels etc., it was difficult not to.
What surprised you most about the Bubble?
MP: What surprised me the most about the Bubble was how the schedule of games and practices flowed smoothly. I think the only hiccup in the schedule was our 6-hour 5 overtime game against Columbus.
RK: I have to agree with Mike on how smoothly everything went. Especially at the start, when there were 12 teams. I don’t really remember any hiccups that anyone could say were controllable. His example of the 5OT game is perfect.
What surprised you least?
MP: Knowing that there would be a lot of games being played at the game venues, we had concerns about game ice conditions and potential injuries due to it going into the Bubble. Once there, it wasn’t surprising to see players “losing edges” a lot more than normal and having some weird non-contact tissue injuries due to skating alone.
RK: The comradery and willingness to work together shown by all the support staffs. We all worked really well together to make this work. Everyone chipped in and helped each other regardless of the competition on the ice.
What did you do during your down time in the Bubble?
MP: There wasn’t much downtime once the playoffs started. We played every other day plus back to back games, so I was busy with treatments and practices, and we had to move in and out of practice rinks and game rinks on a daily basis. If I did get down time,
my fun consisted of playing baseball and wiffleball at BMO field, and dominating a pop-a-shot mini basketball arcade game.
RK: Like Mike said, once the actual playoffs started, there wasn’t really much down time. The first two weeks, exhibition and round robin, we had some time. I spent that time staying in touch with family and friends. Getting a workout in when and where I could, and then just spending time bonding as a group.
What did you do for fun in the Bubble?
RK: In Toronto, we were able to play basketball and had plenty of outdoor space for different activities. Guys played whiffle ball, threw the football around, bocce ball, cornhole, spike ball and I think there was even a synthetic putting strip. There were tennis courts and squash courts as well.
In Edmonton, we were a bit more limited. Guys played board games and cards. Yahtzee and Uno were the most popular.
Will you change in anyway how you prepare for next season after preparing for the Bubble?
MP: Just hoping life is back to normal and we WON’T have to prepare for anything other than normal hockey schedule. I’m sick of wearing masks.
RK: I don’t really think so. This was an extremely unique experience that required unique planning and preparation. Hopefully we never have to do this again. I think if we were to change anything, it would be to downsize the number of things we travel with on a routine basis.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently leading up to leaving for the Bubble?
MP: I would have packed less clothing; half the clothes I brought I never used.
RK: Unlike Mike, I wore every article of clothing I brought. Except for my jacket. LOL! As far as doing anything differently, I can’t say that I would. Sometime before Game 5 of the Final, Ray and I chatted about how impressed we were with how well prepared we both were from an equipment and medical standpoint. It’s one thing to prepare for a “long” two-week road trip, and quite another to prepare for up to 10 weeks away. And we are extremely proud that we were able to pull it off. Hats off to our entire support staff!!!
Were you limited to a few restaurants for your meals?
MP: The hotels all had several restaurant options and 24-hour room service. I found myself using Uber Eats and Door Dash a lot as the days went on. If you ordered food through Uber Eats or Door Dash, the food was brought to a central location outside the hotel where it was disinfected and then you came down and received it.
RK: Early on in Toronto, no. There were quite a few options at the start. As time went on and teams dwindled, some places closed to us and re-opened to the public. I think for us as a group, we were a bit superstitious at times. Meaning we ate with the same small groups either at the same restaurant or ordered from the same places through Uber Eats.
Can you both talk about all the safety procedures that had to be put in place?
MP: The NHL did a great job with their protocol and how each phase played out. Let’s face it, we had no positive cases of Covid in the Bubble. From bus drivers to hotel staff members to arena personnel, no one tested positive, especially considering the hotel and arena staff members were not truly “isolated” when they left the hotel.
RK: The safety procedures were extensive. But as Mike said, the proof is in the fact that there were 0 Covid cases over the 10-week period. Between wearing a mask, getting tested every day, using individual bottles for our players and countless other “one use” items, the league and every staff did an amazing job keeping everybody safe.
Can you compare Toronto & Edmonton? What were the benefits of both?
MP: Toronto was better for quality of life and not going crazy! The hotel had more to offer as far as amenities, (there was a rooftop pool, tennis courts, BMO field, etc.,). The downside to Toronto was that the practice and game rink were both 15-20 minutes away in opposite directions, so the unpacking and unloading of gear and trunks was time consuming every day.
Edmonton was ideal from a work standpoint because we had the same locker room the entire time we were there and you could walk from the hotel to the rink via skybridge, so it made it easier for planning treatments and when extra or injured players would skate.
RK: Toronto was by far the less restricting of the two Bubbles. There was plenty of outdoor space between courtyards, terraces and BMO Field that I never really felt confined. I didn’t mind that we needed transportation to get to the game and practice rinks so much. At least it felt like we were getting away. I definitely felt that Edmonton was more constricting. However, at that point we had the advantage of moving to a new venue and we were that much closer to what we were all trying to achieve. It was much nicer to not have to move every day in Edmonton. We were able to keep the same room the whole time. Whereas in Toronto, we had a home base practice room, but still had to move the gear once or twice almost every day. We actually kept a tally. LOL Toronto- 43 moves. Edmonton-6. Home-1. For a total of 50 times that we moved the gear.
What was it like to watch the games without an audience?
MP: For me it didn’t bother me at all, I’m busy enough during a game that having fans or not having fans doesn’t affect me. You can definitely hear more of the players chirping at each other with no fans
RK: It didn’t really affect me in any way personally either. I do think it had an effect on the games in the sense of momentum swings. I think if any of us have ever wondered about that, we got our answer. Clearly there are buildings in the League that are more hostile than others. And I think it’s clearer than ever that those hostile fans can create a positive energy for the home team.
Tell us about the night you won the Cup! Do you think winning it in the Bubble felt any different? If so, how?
MP: It was an unreal experience, might have been the first time I ever smiled during a game. From what Pat Maroon was saying and some of our staff members who had previously won it, they said that this celebration was different because it was just the players and staff in the dressing room, no one else was around, so it made it more unique and special realizing what you had accomplished with this “Bubble” group of guys.
RK: It’s always so hard to win, no matter what level. The times I won in the minors, my immediate feeling was relief. “Thank God it’s over”. I expected this to be the same, but it wasn’t. It was such an incredible feeling to finally win the Stanley Cup. We all dream about it. It’s why we all do our jobs. Winning it in the Bubble was much different than had we won in “normal” circumstances. I think our entire group was brought so much closer together by being confined for such a long time. We were truly all in it together. Every single person in our group of 52 made sacrifices.
What was it like to not have your family and friends at the Conference Finals and Finals?
MP: No distractions!
RK: I agree with Mike, NO distractions!!!! I think it would have been great for Tom and I to have had our sons there (Quinn and Tyler help us out on game nights at home). And obviously, each of our families make sacrifices all year long for us to chase our dreams. So, they deserve just as much recognition as anybody. Thankfully, we have a great owner in Jeff Vinik. And a great organization that allowed all our families to be together for the Final games.
What was like to see your families (with the Stanley Cup!) after so many days on the road?
MP: The feeling was indescribable, tears of joy. We were only gone for a few months, but I can only imagine what the feeling is like for military members who are gone a lot longer and that moment when you see them.
RK: It was nothing short of amazing!!! Our families deserve an incredible amount of recognition and credit for allowing us to chase our dreams every day. And to finally bring the Cup home was that much more gratifying.
Do you have any plans for your day with the Cup?
MP: We will have a party at my house here in Tampa; just waiting for details and what Covid restrictions may be.
RK: We’re planning to have a party here in Tampa. The biggest thing for me is trying to show appreciation for all the people that helped me get here. There are countless people that have played big and small roles along the way. But, none bigger than the guys that gave me my first job. Without them taking a chance, I would have never had this opportunity.
By Tom Bourdon,
Head Athletic Trainer, Cleveland Monsters
PHATS AHL Executive Committee President
For the first time in the 84-year history of the American Hockey League the Calder Cup was not awarded as the season was abruptly suspended on March 12, 2020 and then officially cancelled on May 11, 2020 due the COVID-19 Pandemic.
With this cancellation came the end of Dave Andrews tenure as President and CEO of the American Hockey League and on June 30th he officially retired. Our membership would like to thank Dave for all of his efforts, support, and contributions to the American Hockey League.
On July 1, 2020, Scott Howson became President and CEO, after being elected into the position by the AHL Board of Governors on February 14, 2020. Scott Howson has been tasked with navigating the AHL through these difficult and unparalleled circumstances. Our membership was able to meet with Scott on June 16, 2020 and we look forward to the opportunity to assist and support his efforts moving forward.
As the American Hockey League anxiously awaits it’s return to action, several organizations have made affiliation changes which includes the sale and closure of the San Antonio Rampage. The Rampage were sold to the Vegas Golden Knights which relocated the team to Henderson, Nevada to become the Henderson Silver Knights. We want to extend thanks and gratitude to the city of San Antonio, and its team patrons. We all have fond memories of competing in a great city with great fans, it will be missed. The Carolina Hurricanes have now entered a partnership/affiliation with the Chicago Wolves. The St. Louis Blues entered an affiliation with the Springfield Thunderbirds, and the Florida Panthers have relocated their affiliation to the Charlotte Checkers. We wish our members, and the staff from these organizations the best of luck in their new cities.
We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy during these difficult times and we look forward to the day when we can get back to our sport and safely see our friends and colleagues.
By Scott Allison
Head Athletic Trainer, Kalamazoo Wings
Holy $(*#*(. That’s all I can think of so far for this year. Yet here we are, prepping for the return of another ECHL season. Much appreciation and respect for all of you staff out there for what you have done so far with the abrupt ending of last season and grinding through the summer with many unknowns. Although the uncertainty remains entering into this season, our league leaders and the PHPA have been working their tails off getting us all ready to begin this year. We are beginning the work of implementing the new Covid-19 protocols and I am certain with all the talented hockey staffs we will create a great and safe season. As of this writing we will be starting this season with 13 Teams beginning play December 11th, with the rest following suit January 15th. Only 2 teams have opted out this year and we will see you next season. Cheers to all involved in creating a safe return to the season. Here’s to all; stay safe and will see you soon.