O'Neill joined the NHL in 1980 when he became the assistant equipment manager of the Winnipeg Jets. He has worked on the Team Canada staff at the 1990 and 2004 World Championships and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. Other highlights include being behind the bench at the 1988 and 1992 NHL All-Star Games.
In 1996, O'Neill became the first recipient of the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame's Larry Ashley Award, presented to the trainer or equipment manager that best exemplifies the character and commitment to excellence displayed by Ashley throughout his career.
O'Neill is an Executive Board Member of the Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers and a certified member of the Athletic Equipment Managers Association.
O'Neill has been preparing Canada's Olympic equipment needs for over a year. He took time recently with NHL.com to discuss his preparations for Vancouver.
NHL.com: You were born in Winnipeg and grew up in Victoria, where your dad had a sports equipment store. Tell us how you got from there to your current position as Head Equipment Manager of the Vancouver Canucks?
O'Neill: I went to Winnipeg when I was 19. I worked for the Jets for eight years and then I came to Vancouver in 1988. Before that, I worked at my dad's store and that's where I picked up the trade.
NHL.com: Tell us about the excitement within the Canucks' organization of having Olympic hockey come to Vancouver.
"When the team was picked on New Years' Eve, I started ordering equipment for the players who were selected. We had the training camp in Calgary in August, so a lot of the ordering was done at that time as far as gloves, helmets, uniforms. I called every individual that is on the team." -- Team Canada equipment manager Pat O'Neill
NHL.com: While you were preparing to be Team Canada's equipment manager at the Olympics, you still had your duties as Canucks' equipment manager. Tell me a little bit about how you do both jobs?
O'Neill: When the team was picked on New Years' Eve, I started ordering equipment for the players who were selected. We had the training camp in Calgary in August, so a lot of the ordering was done at that time as far as gloves, helmets, uniforms. I called every individual that is on the team. It's kind of nice being in my own building, my own dressing room. I can do lots of things ahead of time which most people don't have the luxury of doing when they're working with the Olympics.
NHL.com: What kind of support are you getting from the manufacturers, particularly in the area of sticks? I know players are very, very particular about their sticks and you've got guys, as you just said, coming from various teams and you took their orders for sticks?
O'Neill: As you know, players change their patterns a fair amount, so what I did is place the orders so I'd have those ones ready to go a couple of weeks before the Olympics. As long as they have not changed their specs or their patterns, we're set. Hopefully, I'll have exactly what they're using and it will be all trouble free.
NHL.com: Can you tell us a little bit about your prior international experience?
O'Neill: I did a World Championship in 1990 in Bern, Switzerland. I did a World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria, and I worked the 1996 World Cup.
NHL.com: You were team manager in 1996?
NHL.com: So is this your first Olympics, Pat?
O'Neill: It's my first Olympics.
NHL.com: As far as the equipment coming in from the players, is it similar to an NHL All-Star Game where you have to go to the airport and pick it up, or do the players come with their team gear?
O'Neill: The tough part for me is that we've been on the road. We play February 14 in Minnesota and we get home that night. I think (Canadian coach) Mike Babcock wants to have a practice that night. I don't know how many guys will be available. They definitely will practice Monday the 15th and then they play the first game against Norway on Tuesday the 16th. So I had to make sure before we left on that last eight-game road trip that I've got as much done as I possibly can.
NHL.com: I read an interview with Craig Heisinger, your former assistant with the Winnipeg Jets and now the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the AHL Manitoba Moose. He said that the key break in his career is that you went to Vancouver and created an opening there with the Jets. He also said he had a lot of experience when he was with the junior team of going over to your building and learning equipment repair from you. Is there going to be alteration of equipment? Do players have certain ways they want shirts to fit or pants to be taken in? Are you going to be doing alterations of equipment for these players?
O'Neill: I've been doing that for years. My dad taught me how to use a sewing machine probably about 38 years ago, so I was one of the first guys to do that. That's where "Zinger" got it from. He would always be over and he became a master at it because he's excellent at it. Not that he does it much anymore because he's got a job title. He picked it up very quickly and he did very well at it.
NHL.com: As far as sharpening skates and things like that, do the players' home equipment managers send you a chart or do you have a chart already set up as far as what guys' preferences are?
O'Neill: I've got all the information from every guy who went to the camp in Calgary. I'll fine tune it, but I have all that information at this point.
NHL.com: So, you picked up a lot of information in August for what you need in February. How much preparation did you do prior to August to be ready for August?
O'Neill: Lots. A lot phone calls talking to equipment managers, talking to players, talking to company reps just to make sure that we got everything that they needed. We talked to trainers about some players' idiosyncrasies to make sure that when they went to that camp, nothing was out of place.
Contact John McGourty at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you have any questions about hockey equipment? Ask the experts at the NHL. Email: Equipment@NHL.com