SPHEM Member Spotlight – Dave Williams
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