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Equipment managers do more than just manage

Tuesday, 12.16.2008 / 10:00 AM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

An unsung hero never gets in the way of the spotlight. He hangs in the background, knowing his job is to make the machine look as well-oiled as ever.

Come Jan. 1, all the daily behind-the-scenes work Paul Boyer, Troy Parchman and their staffs have done over the past five months will get little publicity, but the 2009 Winter Classic couldn't function without them.

They are the equipment managers. For the players on the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, they are the lifeblood of the outdoor game. Without them treating the Winter Classic as their second job, no one knows -- or wants to know -- what would happen on the ice at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day.

"All those guys were the unsung heroes," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby told NHL.com, referencing the 2008 Winter Classic between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres. "There were probably some guys out there that didn't change a thing and other guys wanted to bundle up as much as they could and cover every body part. It really takes a lot of thought and those guys were unbelievable."

Dana Heinze of the Penguins and Dave Williams of the Sabres worked last season's Winter Classic, the first outdoor NHL game played in the United States. They have been a source of knowledge for Parchman and Boyer, the equipment managers for the Blackhawks and Red Wings, respectively.

"One of the biggest strengths (equipment managers) have is the good relationships we have with each other," Boyer told NHL.com. "As soon as (the NHL Winter Classic) was announced I gave Dana a call. It's a no brainer. You're crazy if you don't."

Parchman said he and Williams spoke at length this summer, too. The advice has proved beneficial because, like Heinze and Williams, Boyer and Parchman say they happily are over-preparing for their Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic experience.

"You have to plan for every different scenario," said Boyer. "You have to have all of your what-ifs lined up. I'm looking at a list on the wall on top of my desk, an ongoing list of things we have to pack for the game. We're going to go over it and make sure we're not forgetting anything. The whole gist of our job is being over-prepared at all times."

That means ordering items like tinted visors, hand and feet warmers, undergarments, sunglasses and hats -- all of which might never get pulled from their boxes.

"Our biggest concern is how to dress the guys and how they're going to be comfortable," Parchman, who even ordered turtle necks for the coaches because they can't get cold either, told NHL.com. "We have to plan for 40 degrees and sunshine or minus-20 and a blizzard. We have to make sure we have everything covered in terms of that. We're going to have to wait for the day, see how the weather is and wing it."

Last season, a major snowstorm hit Buffalo just in time for the opening faceoff. Williams and Heinze told NHL.com it had little to no affect on how they worked the game, though, because they were ready for it.

Heinze and Williams leaned on the Buffalo Bills' equipment staff for cold weather preparation. The Bills' equipment guys, who helped out at last year's Winter Classic, convinced Heinze to get his players to wear hand and feet warmers.

"That was huge and I would have never thought of that in all my preparation for that game," Heinze said. "The Bills were like, 'It's always cold here and we use those all the time.' So we used them."

Williams said he told Parchman not to turn down any advice or ideas from any manufacturer. He also said to make sure the players have dry clothes at all times and at least three sets for each period.

"There are lots of products out there that can help guys stay warm," Williams said. "Let the guys sample as much as they can in the practice day and truly, when it comes to game time, the guys may not want to go for it."

Williams said some of his players tried eye-black and facial wind cream. They even tried wide receiver gloves under their hockey gloves. He told Parchman some took undergarments off because they were getting too warm.

Heinze said one of the adjustments he had to make in-game was with visors, especially for players wearing half shields.

"When the snow was coming down they were fighting the snowflakes that were sticking on the shields and we ended up taking off about half of them," Heinze said, noting Crosby, who scored the shootout winner, kept his on.

Heinze and Williams were lucky because they got to arrive at Ralph Wilson Stadium a day early to prepare their locker rooms. The Sabres and Penguins played Dec. 29 in Pittsburgh and the teams were scheduled to practice Dec. 31.

"I would be standing here with a different attitude if we couldn't do that," Heinze said. "It made it so easy that the guys could just get off the bus, come and think, 'Man, we're in Pittsburgh again.' That was huge."

Boyer and Parchman won't have that luxury. The Wings and Blackhawks meet in Detroit on Dec. 30, so both equipment managers said they will be flying with their staffs to Chicago after the game and will go straight to Wrigley.

They may not get there until midnight, or even later, but this is where preparation matters. Boyer and Parchman have toured Wrigley and know exactly where their dressing rooms are going to be and what they look like.

"It'll take an hour, maybe an hour and a half (to set up)," Boyer said. "I've seen the room. I know what the stalls are like, I know where the storage is, so it's not like we're standing there wondering where to put a bag. There will be plenty of hands to unload."

Parchman said he plans to have some of his materials already in Wrigley by the time he and his staff arrive early on Dec. 31.

"We're on the road starting the 27th, so our visiting room attendants will have plenty of time to move things over and get things set up," Parchman said. "It's different than last year. They played it in between football games. We can start moving in now if we wanted to."

They're definitely prepared to do so.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.