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No rest for the equipment crew

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames training and equipment staff is a busy bunch, both at home and on the road. Long after games end, the staff still is at the rink, tending to a variety of jobs ranging from medical treatment for players to packing gear or preparing for the next day. The hours are long and, on several occasions throughout a season, the equipment crew simply will sleep at the rink.

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The Flames are on the road in Phoenix Oct. 25, during the NHL's busiest night of the season, with all 30 teams in action. We sat down with Flames equipment manager Gus Thorson, now in his 10th season with the team, to see what he and his crew, which includes assistant equipment manager Mark DePasquale, do on a road trip to keep the players prepared and ready to play.

Along with them is the medical crew, athletic therapist Morris Boyer, assistant athletic therapist Gerry Kurylowich, and massage therapist Brian Lentz, who also work behind the scenes to provide treatment and tend to any nagging injuries.

Friday, Oct 24, 2:00 a.m. -- Arrive in Phoenix from Nashville. After a 3-hour flight, the equipment crew is met by a driver from the Coyotes. They load all the equipment, which includes a portable sewing machine and a skate sharpener, on to a truck and head to the Ice Den in Scottsdale, the Coyotes' practice facility. The crew then unpacks all the gear and sets up the dressing room for practice the next morning. It usually takes about 90 minutes for the equipment team to turn things around.

4:00 a.m. -- Leave the Ice Den for the team hotel to get some sleep.

8:00 a.m. -- Wake-up and have breakfast at the team hotel.

9:45 a.m. --
Take a cab to the Ice Den in Scottsdale from the hotel, ahead of the team bus.

10:30 a.m. --
Arrive at the Ice Den and begin preparations for practice. The crew puts the final touches on the dressing room, prepares the water, Gatorade and coffee, and makes sure the gloves and other equipment from the game the night before is dry and ready for practice.

Noon -- The players arrive for practice at the Ice Den. Practice doesn't start until 1 p.m., but the crew deals with equipment repairs and skate sharpenings, and prepares the bench for practice.

1 p.m. --
Players hit the ice for practice. All the sticks, pucks and the correct ratio of water bottles to Gatorade bottles are on the bench. One person from the equipment crew and another from the medical crew are on the bench at all times.

2 p.m. -- Practice ends and the crew begins packing up the gear and the equipment, loads it into a truck and transports it to Arena in Glendale, where the Flames will play the Coyotes the next evening at 7 p.m.

3:30 p.m. -- Arrive at Arena to unload the equipment and prepare the dressing room for the morning skate and the game the next day. The transfer and set-up takes about 90 minutes.

5:00 p.m. --
Return to team hotel.

Saturday, Oct. 25, 7:00 a.m. -- Breakfast at the team hotel.

8:00 a.m. -- Arrive at Arena to prepare for the morning skate. The crew does last-minute skate sharpenings, equipment repairs and room set-up prior to the players arriving. The medical crew gets ready to meet with players who need medical treatment prior to the morning skate. Once again, the water and Gatorade is prepared, as is the coffee.

10:30 a.m. -- Players arrive for morning skate.

11:30 a.m. -- Players take the ice for the morning skate.

12:30 p.m. -- The crew cleans up the dressing room, tends to any equipment repairs, gives the laundry from the morning skate to the home team equipment crew (home team always does the laundry), cleans visors and hangs the jerseys and socks for the game. The process usually takes about 90 minutes to complete.

2:00 p.m. -- Return to team hotel.

3:30 p.m. -- Check out of the team hotel and return to the rink to begin setting up the bench with the proper ratio of water bottles to Gatorade bottles, arrange sticks, place kit bags and towels for the equipment and medical crews and be available when the players arrive for any last minute tweaks to equipment.

4:45 p.m. -- Players arrive at the rink.

7:00 p.m. -- Game starts.

8:00 p.m. -- The equipment crew begins packing up the equipment and laundry from earlier in the day that is not needed for the game. It is slung into the truck to help in a quick departure after the game, when the team will return to Calgary.

9:00 p.m. -- Thorson and Boyer remain on the bench during the game, but the rest of the group is busy behind the scenes packing more gear and loading it into the truck.

9:30 p.m. -- Game over. While media interviews the players, the crew is gathering equipment bags. The players literally take their gear off, throw it in their bags and the crew begins hauling it to the truck, which will transport it to the airport. It's a crazy, busy time as the turnaround from the end of the game to being on the way to the airport for the flight home is 30-40 minutes.

10 p.m. -- The Flames' crew has the truck loaded and heads to the airport.

10:45p.m. -- The Flames' truck and equipment crew arrive at the airport and begin loading the bags onto the plane. Once loaded, the crew jumps on the plane and gets a chance to catch their breath. It's about a 3-hour flight back to Calgary.

Sunday, Oct. 26, 2:00 a.m. -- Arrive back in Calgary. The crew unloads the equipment onto a truck and heads for the Pengrowth Saddledome to unload the equipment so it can dry out and be ready for the Flames' practice later Sunday morning. The process takes about 90 minutes, so the crew wraps up around 4 a.m. Some go home, while others grab some sleep at the Saddledome. It all begins again at 8 a.m.

Mike Board is the Calgary Flames' website content director.
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