Exactly 4 years ago today, I received a call from Scott Meyer asking if I had time to write up a press release announcing Shane Wagner as the new head coach of a struggling Minnesota Junior Hockey League franchise, the Hudson Crusaders. Scott had just taken over ownership of the Crusaders and my junior hockey career was about to begin.
At the time, I didn’t even know what junior hockey was or that it even existed. Junior hockey was never really a big deal in Minnesota or, at least, big enough for me to notice up until that point. I’d heard of the St. Paul Vulcans but never took an interest in them or what they were about. Minnesota was known for it’s high school, college and pro hockey because, first, there’s a lot of it, and second, because it gets the most coverage.
Once I had seen junior hockey, it made perfect sense as a way for players to continue their careers after high school, develop into better players and advance to college hockey. If you think about it, the majority of players need junior hockey to keep playing competitively so, it’s sad that junior hockey doesn’t get more coverage in Minnesota. It can be very good hockey with very good players who can go on to play at the highest level of college hockey and even go on to have careers in the pros.
I was asked what I wanted my title to be, Director of Media Relations? Equipment Manager? I was willing to take those jobs but wanted to know what those jobs entailed before saying yes. So, not worrying about a title, I would just start helping the Hudson Crusaders wherever they needed.
I was soon given the name of Team Guy since I would end up doing a lot of different jobs for The CRU – game presentation, helping on the bench making sure the players had water, backup sticks & various supplies for the game, driving to away games (sometimes quite the adventure), keeping score online, updating the social media sites, writing articles for the website, updating player stats (players LOVED that), going to league meetings & conference calls as The President (El Prezidente), etc… I was almost the announcer for one game but he showed up just in time. Who knows where I might be if that happened? Haha. Did you think it was a “legal hit?”
The next season, the Minnesota Magicians would embark on their inaugural season and once again, I would get the call to see if I was interested in being the Team Guy for the newest NAHL team. This was a different animal, though. After spending a season with a Tier III Junior Hockey team, I would find out quickly that Tier II hockey is a much more serious deal.* This was big time to me. We’re talking about a league with players that regularly go on to some of the top teams of the Division I college level.
*That is not to say Tier III hockey isn’t serious. A lot of those players are working just as hard to make something out of their hockey careers. I just don’t think it is every player on every team, though.
I would learn a lot that first year with the Magicians, mostly about laundry but also about what it takes to be an equipment manager. There’s a lot of things you need to know how to do and how to do fast to do the job right. The players are there to perform and their equipment needs to be ready for them by and during practice and game time.
I was the Team Guy for both teams in that second year and that made it pretty tough since the majority of junior hockey games are on Friday & Saturday nights. It was difficult to be there for one team while at the same time knowing I couldn’t help the other team and the players as much as I wanted to. They knew I’d be there if I could but in my opinion, it still wasn’t enough.
For four seasons I was the Team Guy/Equipment Manager for the Hudson Crusaders and/or the Minnesota Magicians and I always did it for the players. I did the best I could to make sure when it was game time, they could concentrate on playing the game. They shouldn’t have to worry about any of their equipment. Their mind should be on the task at hand, playing the game and winning. I hope I succeeded in showing every player how much I cared about helping them achieve success.
The end of every season is difficult because you most likely won’t see a lot of those guys ever again and you spend more time with them than anyone else in your life. That’s why they say it’s a family because that is truly how team sports are and, I believe, how they need to be to do something special. Every player has to care about every other player and they have to play for each other.
“We’re a family, Herb!” – Miracle
So you can imagine how difficult it is if this is the end of my career in junior hockey. I had the best seat in the house (standing room only, though) and I enjoyed every second of it. It was very fun to be a part of a team again. I made some friendships that I hope will last the rest of my life. It’s cool to be able to see players currently playing college hockey that I know and had the pleasure of doing just a small part in helping them get there.
Thank you to everyone I’ve met along the way and, always….
Bring The Clutter!!!
Every Day In Every Way!!!
P.S. – I still work at the Richfield Ice Arena so if you are there, look for me and say hello!