Equipment managers prepare for all conditions

Thursday, 12.24.2009 / 9:00 AM / Inside the Equipment Room

By John McGourty - Staff Writer

"We had so many pieces of laundry and items that came in from Reebok. They were thinking outside the box too, thinking about bringing in items used at the football level." -- Dave Williams, Buffalo Sabres equipment manager

Buffalo Sabres equipment manager Dave Williams is in his fifth season with the team, after serving eight seasons as the head equipment manager of the Rochester Americans, then the Sabres' American Hockey League affiliate.

The Rochester, N.Y., native graduated from Plattsburgh State in 1995, after serving four years as the student manager of the university's hockey team. He became head equipment manager of the Knoxville Cherokees in the ECHL and went with the franchise when it relocated to Florence, S.C., as the Pee Dee Pride.

Williams works alongside the Sabres' longtime equipment manager, Rip Simonick, who started with the AHL Buffalo Bisons in 1963, when he was 9. Someday, Simonick will retire and Williams will take over as the sole equipment manager, but that's a day no one is looking forward to, least of all Williams.

Williams, Simonick and Pittsburgh Penguins head equipment manager Dana Heinze faced an unprecedented challenge in preparing for the first Winter Classic in 2008. The NHL's first outdoor game in Edmonton in 2003, the Heritage Classic, was played in sub-zero weather on a day with low humidity.

Williams, Simonick and Heinze had to prepare for an outdoor game in a football stadium in a city known for its lake-effect snowstorms. Then, as game-day approached, the weather service reported temperatures were going to be right around the freezing mark, maybe colder, maybe warmer.

With the third-annual 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic approaching, spoke to Williams about how he prepared for the day and what he learned.  If we were to write a book or a magazine article about your Winter Classic experience, what do you think is the most important thing you learned? What's the most important thing you did for your team in preparing?

Williams:  Thinking outside the box and being prepared for anything you can imagine. That would be the title, I guess, "Be Prepared."  Let's be specific. I noticed when I talk to players when they're getting out of their sweaters that they're wearing Polypro underneath and that's for indoor games. Did your players go to two or three Polypro layers or did you do something different?

Williams: We had so many pieces of laundry and items that came in from Reebok. They were thinking outside the box too, thinking about bringing in items used at the football level. So, we had all different types of underwear. One thing I thought of doing was having three sets of laundry for every player, not knowing whether it was going to rain, snow, be sunny or whatever. Just so they'd all have a dry set after every period. So, we prepared differently.

Every player was different. It depended on the amount of ice time they had during the game, and the degree that they sweated. Each player was unique in what they wore. Some guys who maybe only played four or five minutes that game might have been freezing and some put on another shirt after the first period. As the game went on there were some guys who were playing 18-22 minutes and then sitting on the heated bench who found themselves sweating. As the game went on, they took something off. So, we over-prepared to the degree of having all different types of laundry, whether cotton or the breathability of some of the heat gear that's available for the NFL games.
Have you been consulted or did you reach out to the Boston and Philadelphia equipment managers?

Williams:  We played the Bruins in Boston in early November and I spoke with Keith Robinson, their assistant equipment manager, about a couple of things. I just let them know a few things and gave them the courtesy, 'Call me know if you need anything.' That's it.
  To prepare for the 2008 Winter Classic, did you talk to the Edmonton and Montreal guys about their experience at the 2003 Heritage Classic?

Williams: I spoke with Oilers head equipment manager Barrie Stafford and Montreal head equipment manager Pierre Gervais just a little bit. I knew it wasn't going to get to minus 40 here. They said just be prepared for whatever you can think of, like something coming in at an angle. You're just not used to having that in an indoor environment.  Your goalie, Ryan Miller played in the 2001 "Cold War" game between Michigan and Michigan State. Was he able to provide any information to help you prepare?

Williams: Yes, he did. He knew that wind was going to be a factor because he experienced that in his game in college. For facial wind burn, he wore a full ski mask with the face cut out to just keep his head as warm as possible during periods of inactivity on the ice. He was prepared and he mentioned that to the guys as well. If it's windy, you're going to feel that on your face.  What about the neck?

Williams:  It was a full head mask. It goes down to the neck right over the head.  Were you prepared to protect every player's neck in case you had a 10 degree day with wind?

Williams:  Yes, Thomas Vanek wore one as well. We had about three dozen of them available.  What did you do under gloves? Did anybody wear an underliner glove?

Williams:  At the time we didn't get any, but then Tim Connolly and Brian Campbell asked if we had any gloves. We grabbed some wide-receiver gloves from the Bills. The guys used those for the practice day, but they just didn't like the feel of the double gloves.  A lot of players wear cotton socks for regular games. Did you think about combinations of poly and wool for socks?

Williams:  We didn't go to wool because guys like skates pretty tight and just having that extra thickness of material, we didn't really think of that. One of the benefits of having a day to practice out there was to experiment with other items. We had boxes of foot warmers and other things like that. Maybe a guy could slip one in under his foot just to tinker with on practice days. Having dry stuff was the priority. That's the key to staying warm, keep your underwear dry. Thankfully, it didn't rain.  Did you have some players skating with those little foot-warmer packages inside their skates?

  Not on the game day. They monkeyed around with them on the practice day. On the bench during the game, I had some in my pockets and we passed them around to the coaches, myself and some of the guys who didn't get a lot of ice time and got chilled.  What kind of a day did you have? Wasn't it in the high 20s at the start and warmed up into the 30s?

Williams:  It was overcast, in the high 20s, and snowed at periods during the game. It was like kind of a wet snow so there was a lot of dampness in the air.  That's a typical winter day in Buffalo whereas in Boston, it could range from zero to 70 that day.

Williams:  Yes, Orchard Park is a little different. There can be all sorts of elements coming off Lake Erie, so we even had eyeglasses available in case the sun was shining. We had facial cream that I got from the Buffalo Bills' equipment managers that their guys sometimes use on windy days just to help break that wind chill.

Contact John McGourty at


Do you have any questions about hockey equipment? Ask the experts at the NHL. Email: