Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault maintains a single message from day to day during the regular season: take things one game at a time.
From players and coaches to management, no one is to overlook an opponent. Focus on the task at hand and the job gets done right.
Luckily Vancouver’s equipment staff doesn’t abide by the same rule, if they did the team would be in hot water just two games into their colossal 14-game road trip.
Planning ahead is the name of the game for Canucks equipment manager Pat O’Neill and his deputy Jamie Hendricks, two thirds of the dream team that keeps things in order for the Canucks.
The longest road trip in NHL history, all 13 cities, 14 games and 20,737 kilometers of it, presented a unique challenge for O’Neill, Hendricks and equipment assistant Brian Hamilton (not on the trip), but instead of being overwhelmed by the big picture, they took a step back to put things into focus, kind of like those Magic Eye images from back in the day.
Mapping things out for each stop was paramount to calculating how much of what needed to go where, when and with whom.
“Once you sit down and look at the schedule you can figure out how many days you’re going to practice and how many days are in-between games and really break it down,” explained Hendricks before the trip, adding that January 21st was the day the planning started.
Although Vancouver’s road trip is split into eight and six game chunks because of the 2010 Olympics – which theoretically should have taken some pressure off the initial planning – the equipment team has no access to the Canucks supplies at GM Place during the Games.
Hamilton will be working for Vanoc throughout the Olympics and could assemble a few pieces of gear to send with the team following the Games, but overall the trio was forced to melt eight and six into 14 and pack everything needed until March 10th.
When O’Neill, who will be involved with the training staff for Team Canada’s men’s hockey team at the Olympics, jokes that this is “probably the most interesting trip I’ve ever experienced,” it’s no laughing matter.
O'Neill has been at the helm for 22 years with the Canucks having worked over 2,000 games in his NHL career. Pair that experience with the 11 years Hendricks brings to the table, plus Hamilton’s seven seasons, and 40 years of know-how went into prepping Vancouver for this trip.
Lumber proved to be a major equipment issue, with each player transporting around 10 extra sticks to put the Canucks at just under 300 as a team. Like dad used to say, “pack extra – better safe than sorry.”
“Sticks is the biggest thing right now because you never know, if a guy gets a bad batch and breaks a bunch, that’s no good,” said Hendricks. “If it came down to it in an emergency you can have some shipped in from a manufacturer, so we’ll be alright.”
Most of the players’ equipment was changed over to new gear leading up to the trip, that made bringing a boatload of skates and gloves unnecessary. Still, the Canucks, one of the lightest traveling teams in the NHL, are at least 25 bags heavier than normal, mainly because of two elements that may or may not come into play during the road trip.
If a player goes down and a solider needs to be brought in from the Manitoba Moose, they’ve got to be ready. Beyond that, Hendricks and company were forced to prepare for the NHL trade deadline on March 3rd.
“For the trade deadline we’ve packed extra gear in case the team decides to make a change,” Hendricks said. “We’ve got multiple extra blanks, brand new sets of gear, blank jerseys; if we have to sew them we’ll just sew them right there in the rink, it only take 30 minutes or so to make a jersey from scratch.”
In addition to packing for the current Canucks, emergency call-ups and potential new acquisitions for a 42-day haul, O’Neill and Hendricks had to remember to pack for themselves as well.
“Hopefully there aren’t any hiccups,” laughed Hendricks. “We’ve got enough stuff to get us going and enough stuff to maintain, but who knows what’s going to happen.”
Mavericks in their own regard, Vancouver’s equipment staff prides itself on looking beyond the game at hand to what lies ahead.
No dictionary needed to know that in this case a lack of planning would have spelled disaster for the Canucks.