and JT Brown will have more than just each other at this year’s upcoming 2012 IIHF World Championships tournament.
On Wednesday, USA Hockey announced that four additional members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization will be joining the pair of Bolts forwards as representatives of Team USA for the annual competition, which is set to take place May 4-20 in Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden.
Meeting up with Thompson and Brown will be Lightning head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan, head equipment manager Ray Thill, assistant equipment manager Rob Kennedy and massage therapist Christian Rivas.
“Anytime you’re called on to represent your country is a pretty neat experience,” Mulligan said. “It’s a bit of a different stage than the NHL, so I think I speak on behalf of all of us that we’re pretty excited. It’s a privilege and an honor.”
Mulligan, who recently just completed his 11th season with the Bolts, also represented Team USA at the 2008 tournament in Canada. He views this year’s tournament as not only an opportunity to again represent his country, but just as much sees it as a reward for the hard work put in by both he and his Lightning colleagues, who continue to be recognized as some of the best in the business.
“It’s a great opportunity for all of us individually, but collectively, it’s a testament to the Lightning organization as a whole and the culture they’ve created there,” Mulligan added. “The opportunity to work the World Championships recognizes us just as much as it recognizes the entire organization.”
Thill said he certainly didn’t disagree.
Wednesday’s nomination marked the third occasion in which Thill will be heading to the World Championships as Team USA’s head equipment manager. He previously served in the same capacity at the 2008 and 2009 tournaments, held in Canada and Switzerland, respectively, and was selected to work the 2012 NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa this past January.
Being the most seasoned individual of the group when it comes to staffing international tournaments, Thill expects his previous experience to make for an easy transition for himself personally. But in contrast to previous World Championships tournaments, this year’s competition features new players on the roster, as well as a new location, which has Thill’s anticipation riding high.
“Having done this before, I have a routine, so I know more or less what to expect,” Thill said. “But for me, I’m looking forward to meeting some of the guys on other teams I’ve never worked with before and having the opportunity to do so in countries that I’ve never been before. It’s going to be cool and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
For as much as the opportunity will be a new learning experience for Thill, he could find himself tasked with showing a pair of first-timers in Kennedy and Rivas the ropes.
Kennedy will be making his Team USA debut next month after completing his fifth season with Tampa Bay. Likewise, Rivas will be making his first international appearance coming off just his second season with the Bolts.
But for both, the unfamiliarity of working such an event doesn’t take away from the excitement of interacting with some of the United States’ most talented hockey personnel, on and off the ice.
“For me personally, I was absolutely shocked when I found out I had been chosen to work,” Kennedy said. “I was surprised at first, but once I thought about it, I realized it’s a tremendous honor and you don’t take stuff like that for granted. It’s going to be really cool.”
Ray Thill assists Lightning defenseman Brian Lee with his skate prior to a matchup. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Adding to Kennedy’s experience is that Thill, who he has known and worked with for several years, will be accompanying him on the trip, thus giving Kennedy a sense of the pair’s friendship coming full circle.
“I actually started with Ray way back, so I’m happy to share the experience with him,” Kennedy added. “It will be memorable for sure.”
Like Kennedy, Rivas also said he was “shocked” to be selected as a staffer for the upcoming tournament. That Rivas has only worked in the NHL for two seasons, however, only made the announcement more special to him, at least on a personal level.
“I haven’t been around the NHL very long, but I think being asked to work the World Championships let me know how well respected I was among my peers,” Rivas said. “It dawned on me the other day because I didn’t know how to react. But it made me feel like part of the team, and to represent your country, there’s tremendous pride in that.”