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Behind the E[quipment]: Blood, Sweat and Gear

by Brandon McNelis / Boston Bruins - In the most recent episode of Behind the B, presented by Alex and Ani, I was charged with the task of capturing what it's like to be part of the teams' equipment staff during one of the most challenging tasks they'll face multiple times each year: prepping and transporting all of the teams' equipment for a set of back-to-back games in two cities, thousands of miles apart. While filming the staff every 'bag throw of the way', I also put together a journal of each critical step in the process to provide perspective what it's like in the day of the life of the Bruins equipment staff. So without further adieu, here are the time-stamped journal entries from the experience:

DAY 1: Travel Day

7:00 AM - The trip up to Wilmington, MA (where the Bruins practice facility is located) from Boston usually takes about 30-40 minutes in rush hour traffic. However, the time of day the equipment staff travels up and down I-93 between Ristuccia Arena and TD Garden, it's usually empty. And usually dark. Much like the locker room where the seemingly endless quantity of Bruins equipment lies dormant, patiently awaiting the arrival of the B's equipment staff composed of Keith Robinson, Jim "Beets" Johnson and Matt Falconer.

7:10 AM - The military-like synchronization of the trio's arrival to the teams' practice facility begins with methodically packing the players gear and training staff essentials into the back of the Bruins equipment truck. Once super-saturated with hockey gear and its signature scent, the equipment troop hops into the cold truck and treks over to Civilian terminal at Hanscom Air Force Base to intercept the team charter awaiting the players and staff on the tarmac.

8:00 AM - The process once the truck arrives to the airport is relatively seamless. Keith Robinson, or Keto as the team calls him, makes a quick phone call and the chain-link, barbwire-lined fence creeps open a few inches at a time, before the truck can successfully pass through and pull up right next to the team jet. The groaning conveyor belt is ready and revolving, waiting to spit bags into the belly of the plane before the team takes off, Pittsburgh-bound, to battle the Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. A team, I might add, that needs no added motivation after being swept by the Bruins in a four-game Eastern Conference Final. But that's not the focus of Keith and Jim.

8:45 AM - One-by-one each bag is dragged into the subterranean levels of the plane to finds its temporary home for the hour and 20 minute flight. The equipment staff follows suit and makes their way to toward the back half of the plane amongst the players to their seats, sandwiched between Torey Krug & Adam McQuaid sitting in front of them and Jarome Iginla seated behind. Following a quick hot meal on the plane, Robinson and Johnson close their eyes for a majority of the flight, knowing full-well that during the back-to-back games, sleep comes at a premium.

10:48 AM - The plane arrives in Pittsburgh almost to the minute as planned in the team itinerary, but the rush to unpack the equipment into the next equipment truck is as if the plane was six-hours behind schedule. However the sense of urgency is warranted as the team bus is already en route to the rink while the truck is still being stuffed with equipment. So it's up to Keto and Beets to make sure the equipment gets there expeditiously so they can ready to the players gear for practice at the Consol Energy Center scheduled for 1:00 p.m.

11:30 AM -
Despite the equipment truck leaving 15 minutes after the team bus had already departed for the Penguins barn, we arrive only a few minutes after the team bus had arrived at the rink. The players were waiting at the loading dock to assist the staff in unloading their bags onto several large four-wheeled carts, while others just sling their bags over their shoulders the old fashioned way and head to the visiting team locker room.

12:00 PM - The locker room before practice is much like a beehive, with players and equipment staff buzzing around making last second adjustments to skates, helmets, shoulder pads as well as locating ever-important secret stash of gummy energy chews - a favorite of Bruins superstar David Krejci.

1:00 PM - Practice begins. Keto and Beets field the normal requests of the players: stick swap, skate adjustment, a visor wipe, water, etc. But they get their fair share abnormal requests too. Take for example Carl Soderberg, who wants an adjustment for his left skate. Seems pretty simple. Actually, Carl wants just a new set of skates altogether. Ok, no problem. Keto jogs down to the locker room and grabs the new pair for Carl and leaves them on the bench to switch out at his leisure. Carl spots the skates and sits down on the bench and begins to change his skates. Check that, Carl changes his left only. So for those you keeping track at home, Carl is now wearing two completely different skates. Perplexed, Keto just laughs it off as Head Coach Claude Julien soon catches on to Carl's mismatched skates. Coach skates over to the bench between drills and asks Keto why exactly Carl had switched just one skate. Keto didn't know why. Coach didn't know why. I didn't know why. But Carl knew why. And that's all that mattered as the Stockholm native skated around the ice with a satisfied smile on his face.

2:00 - 4:30 PM - Practice winds down and it's time to clean and adjust all the equipment and prepare the room for tomorrow's pregame skate, which is scheduled for 11:30 am. This preparation takes about two hours. Once each stall is stocked with their equipment and meticulously organized to each players' exact specifications, it's time to check out the new digs for the evening. Keto, Beets and myself all decide that fresh air is the play on the way back to the team hotel, rather than all cramming into a cab. The walk takes about 20 minutes before the three of us enter the perfectly manicured lobby of the teams' five-star hotel. As a pretty green traveler with the team, I'm still the one to look around the establishment wide-eyed as if I'd made a wrong turn, while Keto and Beets make a bee-line for the front desk to acquire their room keys. When I asked them both what they had planned for the rest of the night to which their answer was quite simple: a little room service meal with a smattering of upscale relaxation in the beautifully accommodated, team-issued room. Life is good…

DAY 2: Game Day in Pittsburgh

7:45 AM - The one accommodation the team hotel seems to lack is the ability to slow down time. Morning comes quickly. Keto, Beets and I meet for breakfast in the teams' meal area on the second floor of the hotel, all grabbing a coffee and some sustenance before we head down to the hotel lobby and take a cab over to the arena where the squad will make its final preparations for morning skate.

10:00 AM - Preparations pretty much go as planned as the players start to trickle in and tinker with their gear in the hour and a half leading up to pregame skate.

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM - The mood at morning skate is a little bit more focused but still has some humor sprinkled in throughout. Coach playfully complains about the holes in his gloves, but his smile fades to focus as he heads back out to center-ice to watch over the teams final practice before they battle the Penguins.

12:30 - 3:30 PM - Lather, rinse and repeat. Gameday set-up following the morning skate is very similar to the previous two set-ups the equipment staff had already completed, only this time the player stalls will be stocked with white spoked-B game jerseys. Once complete they, similar to the players, partake in their pregame routines. Keto grabs lunch a couple blocks away with the trainers, while Beets grabs a malt at his favorite shake place in Pittsburgh before taking another nap in he locker room. The steady drone of floor fans drying will be the lone acoustic heard for the next couple hours.

4:30 PM - Gregory Campbell is the first Bruin to arrive to the rink, which isn't uncommon. Oftentimes on practice days, Soupy will be the first one on the ice and among the last ones off. Once the first wave of players arrives, Keto and Beets will begin to make their rounds, checking in with each player on equipment modifications made earlier in the day. They check in with Seidenberg's T-Blades adjustments. And the screws in Tuukka's mask. Krejci's helmet. The list goes on. Quite frankly, I don't know how the two of them keep up with it all.

5:30 - 7:30 PM -  The time between player arrival and warmups goes relatively smooth. Minor last second adjustments are made here and there. Nothing major. Carl appears to be wearing matching skates, so that's good. Although I must admit I was secretly hoping Carl would wear two different ones and score, which would undoubtedly start a new superstitious NHL trend.

Focused on Keto and Beets, time gets away from me, forgetting that I need to get Keto the player microphones that he will fasten to Chara's and Boychuk's shoulder pads during the game, which are responsible for the awesome on-ice audio heard in Behind the B presented by Alex and Ani. After grabbing the mics, I watch Keto work his magic. He explains that players often experience some level of discomfort with the mic's latched onto their shoulder pads and that he has own method to minimize the discomfort: essentially, the less movement of the microphone, the better. Keto uses a combination of special twine and zip ties to fasten the microphone in. The twine locks the body to the mic pack to the back of the shoulder pads. The wire and microphone, which are snaked to the front of the pads, are fastened down with zip ties along the way to keep them from getting loose.

7:30 - 8:00 PM - Warmups. The players take the ice while Keto and Beets man the bench ready to solve player gear issues should they arise. Warmups go smooth with one minor exception as a part of Torey Krug's shoulder pad was ripped out of place. Keto fixes it in just a few minutes. Piece of cake.

8:08 PM - The puck drops. Keto is stationed on the bench while Beets migrates back and forth between the bench and the locker room. Though the game just started, preparations for the teams trip home have already begun. Down in the locker room, Beets begins to pack up items which the team will little or no use for at this point to help expedite the process of traveling back home. This happens throughout the course of the game.

Keto on the other hand is locked in on the game standing behind Chad Johnson, ready to jump into action at a moments notice in the event of a stick breaking or an equipment malfunction. Sure enough, Zdeno Chara takes a slap shot. SNAP. "KETO!" the bench screams. But before they could get to the second vowel in his name, Chara's replacement twig was already protruding out of the bench awaiting the Captains arrival.

10:48 PM - The game ends with a deflating loss, but for the Bruins equipment staff, the night is just beginning, so there's no time to dwell on that. This is probably the busiest and most hectic 45 minutes the equipment endures in trying to pack up all the player and staff equipment to get to the plane in time for takeoff. Being on time is especially critical as the B's will be battling the Anaheim Ducks back in Boston (where they are already comfortably sleeping I might add) less than 18 hours from now. Coach wants the players to get their rest, so there is an added sense of urgency to get out of Pittsburgh.

They players do their part and fill their open bags positioned out in front of their stalls with their equipment to help Keto and Beets out. One by one, each bag is hauled out of the locker room onto rolling platform waiting outside the room. The bags are then put on the truck and driven to the airport and loaded into the plane.

11:50 PM - Everything goes smoothly as it often does with the equipment staff and they make great time, finishing the equipment transfer just a few minutes before the team bus arrives. We board the plane and find our seats among the players. I experience Deja vu as Keto and Beets both enjoy their warm meal, before closing their eyes as they had done in the previous flight a day earlier.

1:10 AM - Shortly before we land, we are told that there will be no morning skate before the game against the Ducks to allow the players (and staff, for that matter) to get a little extra sleep. Thanks, Coach!

1:50 AM - We fill the truck and trek back to Boston. Matty Falconer (who normally travels with the equipment staff but stayed back to assist the Ducks with craziness of the back-to-back schedule) meets us on the event level at the Garden and helps transport all of the equipment to the locker room.

2:15 AM - Once all the bags are scattered throughout the B's home locker room, it's time to begin to unpack, dry the gear and make the appropriate preparations for tomorrow. The sounds of zipping and bags shuffling, mixed with some light country music in the background, fill the room. With the opening of the bags, the odor of wet hockey equipment greets our olfactory system once again. One-by-one each stall is filled and cared for. This process takes about an hour and a half.

3:48 AM - It's done. Time for bed. Fortunately the staff doesn't need to travel very far to get some much derserved sleep. The training tables and pull out couch in the locker room look equally as inviting as the 1,000 thread count Egyptian Cotton lined bed (with entirely too many pillows for one human being) that they had slept in the night before. At 4:00 in the morning, even the floor begins to look comfortable. I say bye to the staff and thank them for allowing me the opportunity to follow them through a day in the life. They are all smiles, but clearly ready for bed.

Tomorrow, they'll do it all over again.

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