SPHEM Member Spotlight – Joel Farnsworth
Joel Farnsworth, Head Equipment Manager, St. Louis Blues
SPHEM: What got you started in the equipment profession and how did you get your start in Professional Hockey?
JF: I got started in the equipment profession as a student manager for the University of Vermont hockey team in 1995. My neighbors in the dorm were on the hockey team, we became close friends, which eventually lead to me working for the team. In 1996, the New York Rangers started coming to Burlington for training camp, and they needed an extra pair of hands, particularly with the laundry, since we didn’t have a towel service available. I worked the next 4 years of training camp, offering whatever help I could. In the summer of 2001, Cass contacted me to see if I would be interested in getting my foot in the door of professional hockey as the assistant equipment manager in Hartford, working with Jason Levy, and the rest is history!
SPHEM: You have been with the Blues organization since the 2002-03 season working for their AHL affiliates in Peoria and Worcester before joining the Blues in 2009. What are the benefits to working with different levels of an NHL Club’s organization?
JF: I would say the biggest benefit is being able to build relationships from the bottom up, gaining trust and respect along the way by working hard and helping the organization in whatever capacity that you can. I have been very fortunate to be able to stay in one organization for almost 20 years. I would also say that working your way up from the minors within one organization also gives you a greater appreciation for the time you get to spend in the NHL.
SPHEM: If you could go back to 2002-03 what would you tell your younger self?
JF: I would say the biggest thing I would tell my younger self is: Patience. You aren’t going to get to the NHL your first year working in this business, you can’t solve every problem instantly, so have patience, and persistence. Work hard and enjoy the ride.
SPHEM: The St. Louis Blues had an incredible turnaround last season, culminating in winning the Stanley Cup! What was that experience like for you?
JF: It was an absolute whirlwind experience last season. To have gone from the depths of standings in January, to the top in June, was totally unexpected, exhilarating and incredible all in a stretch of 5 months. It was awesome to watch our players, coaches and trainers come together and believe in one another so strongly. Having never worked the Finals before personally, I was extremely fortunate to have Rich Matthews working along side of me as well, his experience in previous Finals was so helpful throughout our playoff run. The entire staff worked so hard, and it was such an incredibly rewarding feeling getting to lift the Cup.
SPHEM: What did you do on your day with the Cup?
JF: My day with the Cup started by surprising the workers at Liebe, our jersey customizer’s factory, it was great getting to see so many smiles on their faces. Then we headed to my children’s school for a couple of hours. We went to each of my children’s classrooms, then surprised a few other teachers and classrooms before taking a school wide photo out on the playground. Then we had an open house for some friends and family, before ending the night with a private function for our closest friends and family. It was an incredible day, that included eating Ben and Jerry’s from the Cup and lots of smiles!
SPHEM: In your opinion, what has been the greatest technological advance in equipment? Is there something you’d still like to see?
JF: Without question to me, the single greatest advancement in hockey equipment in my time working in the sport is the evolution of the removable skate blade. To be able to change out a damaged blade on the bench, and have the player never miss a shift is such a massive leap from where we were just a few years ago even. Beyond that, I think the constantly evolving science behind sticks is incredible. I also think the increased attention to shot blocking, and the various protective strategies that are constantly improving are going to be an area that we see incredible advancement in the coming seasons.
SPHEM: Even though you don’t often get much time in the cities you travel to, what is one of your favorite hockey cities to visit and why?
JF: I really enjoy visiting Nashville as a big country music fan. I also think it is incredible how much the atmosphere of the building in Nashville has improved over the seasons. It is also one of the closest cities to St Louis, so we tend to have a lot of fans travel there for games, which adds to the atmosphere. Having Partner (Craig Baugh) helping in the room is always a great experience too!
SPHEM: Do you have a professional mentor or Equipment Manager you admire?
JF: There isn’t a single equipment manager or professional mentor, because in all honesty, I have learned a tremendous amount from every single coworker and peer that I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with during my career. However, I would be remiss to not mention Cass for giving me my first opportunity in professional hockey, and his willingness to offer advice or guidance whenever asked. I also need to mention Al Coates, who was my GM in Hartford, who has always been great with guidance and an encouraging word as well. Rich Villani with the NHL has been incredibly helpful as well, always offering a suggestion or a helping hand when he can. We are so fortunate in this industry to have so many selfless people, that are always willing to lend a helping hand.
Tell us a little bit about yourself… Away from the rink I try to spend as much time as I can with my wife Angie, and our 2 kids, Abby and Joel. We all enjoy watching movies, playing board games and watching sports together as a family. I also try to spend some time each summer working on my antique farm tractor.
All photos courtesy of Joel Farnsworth