It's a story repeated over and over again: A young hockey player works hard through the minor leagues, but is constantly overlooked, unable to impress his coaches enough to earn a promotion to the NHL. But after years of patience and paying his dues, the player finally gets a break and seizes the opportunity to play in the big leagues.
The stories you don't often hear are ones about minor league staff members -- men and women who often have much smaller budgets and more job responsibilities than they have time for. Most of them anxiously await a future in the big leagues, one where there is an opportunity to work on a grander stage, have slightly shorter days and far bigger budgets.
"Working in the NHL is a little bit easier, but there are still challenges here, which is good because that's what you want," said Lamont Buford, the Blues’ Event Marketing Manager. "You always want to be challenged. It's pretty fun."
Buford spent 7 years with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League before he got his big break in September, taking a job with the Blues less than two months ago.
As a video production supervisor in Hershey, Buford was in charge of the club's production department, but his job varied each night. Sometimes he'd be the on-ice entertainment, while other nights he'd be doing whatever was needed in the control room. Sometimes he'd be behind a camera. Each day was a new learning experience that prepared him for the job he has today.
"There was something different that happened every night or every day that helps prepare you for the future," Buford said recently. "Just being able to go through those things down there in the minors, you're able to deal with the things here a little bit better."
Buford's game-day routine with the Blues involves 3 pre-game meetings and involvement in directing the in-game entertainment, which includes everything from the video fans see on the Jumbotron to the music they hear over the speaker system. Unlike his job in Hershey, Buford finds himself among the crowd in St. Louis, where he gets a chance to experience the building's atmosphere and see a bit more of the game.
"I've been doing this now probably seven years, and I don't really remember anything that happened in the (AHL) games because you really don't get to see it," he said. "The cool thing about this place is that you're in the crowd, you get the feel and you can feed off their emotion, but I've been in places where you don’t get to do that."
Moving to St. Louis means Buford's family still is living back in Pennsylvania until he can find a house or apartment that suits his wife and 3 young daughters.
Now that the future he'd hoped for finally is here, there's only one more thing Buford looks forward to -- the day his three daughters come to a game to see their dad in the big leagues.
"I think it will be real exciting," he said. "They're ready for it. In the minors, our building held 10,500 and they've heard 10,500 people going nuts. I don't think they've heard the 19,000 people here going crazy.
"It will be a different experience."
Chris Pinkert is website manager for the St. Louis Blues.