Earlier this month, the Hub of Hockey was saddened to learn of the passing of Kenneth "Doc" Fleger. The club will acknowledge Fleger and his service to the organization during the first period of tonight's game versus Florida.
Fleger began his career in 1966 as a trainer for his hometown senior team in Drumheller, Alberta and made his way through several levels of hockey to the NHL with Vancouver in 1979.
"I had him in Vancouver for my first three years, and it’s just a real, real pleasure to be around a guy like that," said Boston Bruins vice president Cam Neely of fellow Hockey Hall of Famer, Fleger. "In my opinion, he was the best equipment manager I had as a player.
"You didn’t even have to tell him something was wrong.
"For example, if you had something wrong with your equipment and forgot to tell him, the next day it would be fixed. He would go through every set of equipment meticulously after each game and practice.
"And never, ever, ever did I see the guy not have a smile on his face," he said.
Fleger, who was the Bruins equipment manager from 1989 through 1998, spent nine years in Black & Gold after working with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils as well as Salt Lake of the Western League, Phoenix of the World Hockey Association and Dallas of the Central League.
"He was a guy who was involved in hockey a lot of years," added Neely. "I think he was proud to be a member of the Boston Bruins -- an 'Original Six' franchise.
"And I think he kind of showed people the way he does things and the work ethic that he put forth. Even a guy like Keith learned from him. He learned a lot from him. So I think he showed people like, ‘This is how I do it. I’m working hard, you got to work hard too.’
"I think the more people that are in the organization that have that work ethic, the harder it is for people to not pick themselves or their effort up because they will be the minority, instead of the majority," said Neely.
"Doc was a guy that greeted you every day with a smile on his face and he had an infectious personality and love for the game," said assistant GM Don Sweeney, also a former Bruins defenseman. "You didn’t beat him to the rink and for the most part, you didn’t leave before him because he lived there.
"It was his life. He took care of each and every one of us, regardless if you were at the top of the food chain or last, he took care of you.
"He was a guy that went out of his way to help you as a player, get better and do your job, and help the guys that he was working with get better at their job, so he was leading the charge, but he was also teaching."
Current Boston Bruins assistant equipment manager Keith Robinson said that Fleger was a mentor.
"When he came here, I was already working here and he kind of took me under his wing," he said. "He not only taught me some of the tricks of the trade, he kind of also was like a father figure.
"He looked after me and he pretty much taught me how to keep a professional rapport with everybody, the different dynamics in the room, coaches, and other trainers around the League.
"All that stuff is part of the business," said Robinson.
But being personable in professional sports is not necessarily a prerequisite to success, you have to earn the respect of your peers.
"He was just one of those guys that everyone respected, just the years he had under his belt at all the different levels," he said. "He worked for Team Canada on a couple of occasions. All the players that have come and gone through that he worked with always respected him and checked in with him after they had gone on to other teams.
"Over the course of years, he’s just one of those guys that everyone went out of their way to say 'Hello' and shake his hand and see how he’s doing.
"It’s just the kind of guy he was. He was always smiling. You remember when you met Doc, and walked away saying, ‘What a really nice, nice guy.’
"He's just the kind of genuine guy that always kept things on the right level with everybody. He never crossed anybody," added Robinson. "That’s what I try to follow in his footsteps that way."
And, of course, nobody knew hockey equipment better than Doc.
"Doc had a great reputation with skates. He worked with some of the best guys in the League. You know, the Ray Bourque’s and the Paul Coffey’s and all those guys. They liked the job he did with skates and stuff and repairs, especially specialty repairs," said Robinson. "He taught me a lot of that stuff. Guys had broken fingers or whatnot and what you can do to the gloves and so on and so forth.
"He always used to make comments, like in the minors, he had to put 'a stitch on a stitch' to make things last longer. I think with that experience, he had a lot of good little tricks with comparing equipment."
Obviously, it was a labor of love for Fleger.
"Our family would like to thank everyone in Boston for the kindness and love that you gave to our dad," said the Fleger family (Adele, Greg, Andy and Ward) in a recent e-mail. "He loved Boston and we know it was the happiest time of his career.
"It was comforting to us in Phoenix, to know that he was so well taken care of, and to see him so happy. He watched the Boston Bruins on TV, until the day he died.
"All of you who knew our father should know that you were like family to him, and he never forgot any of you. Thank you for your sympathy and support."
Neely and Sweeney said it was Doc who deserved all the thanks.
"He went a long way into the success we had as a group," said Sweeney. "When you have a guy that has that infectious love for the game and personality, I think you can galvanize the group, you know, make your room that much happier of a place to be, when you have 20 different personalities so to speak.
"When you have a guy walking through every day, picking other people up, regardless if you’re down or up or whatever, he was one of those guys that could do that.
"I think our medical staff fed off of that, our equipment guys fed off that, our players fed off that , and the coaches, you know, the coaches believe that Doc was really a big part of our team. And he was," he said.
"He was a true all-star in his profession," said Neely definitively. "We were lucky to have him."
Thank you Doc...