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By truck, out of the West

by John McGourty / NHL.com

"The equipment has to hang to dry. We have to prepare it. We have to get the laundry done. We have to get the jerseys done. We do all those things."
-- Barrie Stafford, Edmonton Oilers head equipment manager

Barrie Stafford is currently in his 29th season with the Edmonton Oilers' organization and in his 28th as the team's head equipment manager. Since joining the Edmonton training staff in 1982-83, "Staff" has contributed greatly to the success of the Oilers as a member of five Stanley Cup championship teams.

Stafford also has an extensive background in international hockey, serving as the equipment manager for Team Canada at seven major international tournaments. He won titles with Canada at the 1984, '87 and '91 Canada Cups, the 1994 World Championships in Milan, Italy and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He also was with the silver medal-winning Canadian team at the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and the 2006 Olympic Team.

For those reasons and more, the former Vice President of the Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers is the logical choice to ask about the arduous process of moving an NHL team from city to city during a season.

NHL.com:
When the Flyers played Dec. 30 in New York and then had to get to Boston for practice the next day, the Rangers gave them a truck to make the trip. Meanwhile, the players, coaching staff and team executives took a train. There're different travel arrangements sometimes for the equipment staff than there is for the team. The equipment managers don't always leave with the team?

Stafford: Our training staff works independent of the team and pretty much all teams in the NHL work that way. It's a little different in the East Coast than it is in our conference because there's a difference between cities. But, generally speaking, the home team supplies the vehicle that we use to go wherever we might need to go. The Toronto Maple Leafs came to Edmonton last week after playing the other day in Pittsburgh. Our truck driver, after their practice, packed up their gear and took them to Calgary. That's quite common in this part of the world, between Calgary and Edmonton, because it's a three-hour trip. Arrangements would be made either through the Calgary truck driver or the Edmonton truck driver to take the team back and forth. Some teams fly. But when the truck is available and they want to go by truck, that's how they do it.

NHL.com: After a recent Flyers' game, Ottawa Senators General Manager Bryan Murray and the rest of the team were getting wanded by customs officials while they were still inside the Wachovia Center. So in these international flights, do you often pass customs right out of the arena?

Stafford:
Well, every team is different, but since before Christmas, on trips that are international, even if we fly charter, there could be customs either at the arena or at the base of the plane, at the stairway going up to the plane. There will be three or four security people there. I think it's the team's choice and based on the scheduling of the security people, but a lot of teams like to do it at the arena.

But what will happen is that as the team prepares to go on the bus, the security people will set up outside of the bus. They have a table set up with their wanding process and they'll check the bags and wand each person as they get on the bus. From that point, the bus leaves the arena, goes right to the tarmac and the players jump on the plane. If it works better for the security people to do it at the plane, based on scheduling, then what they'll do is, the bus will get them to the airport and as they get off the bus, they'll be wanded before they get on the plane. That happens whether it's an international flight or not.

NHL.com: We often see the players get on the bus to leave the arena within about a half hour after the end of the game. But we don't see the equipment and equipment managers. Walk us through what happens for you guys from the time you leave the bench after the game and the time you get on the plane and sit down.

Stafford:
Typically what happens is we travel independent of the team. Say we're going New York to Long Island. What happens is we pack all our gear up as soon as we can. For a truck ride, we pack the truck right at the building and the team gets on the bus and bus us over. We would typically load the truck and all the equipment staff would drive, then unload and go to work. In the event that we were leaving New York to fly to Boston, then what we do is we pack the truck the same way. All the training staff would jump in the truck and the truck would go to the airport.

Once they get to the airport, we would assist the truck driver to make sure all the equipment gets onto the belt loader and onto the plane and then we go right on the plane. Typically, we're there 15-20 minutes before the team to avoid any delays. As a rule of thumb, the training staff would always want the truck to leave the building before the bus so that we get a head start on the team and then the plane can be loaded by the time the bus arrives, then the players can jump right on the plane and then we can take off. In most cases if you're playing back-to-back games, time is important. You don't want to have any delays. You want to get the team into the next city as quickly as you can so the boys can get to bed.

NHL.com: It sounds like what you do is get the wet equipment into bags and truck wet equipment out to the plane and then deal with it wherever you arrive?

Stafford: Oh, yes. You asked me what we do to get to the plane on time after a game and then the plane has to land. So, wherever we go, after the game the equipment is wet. So, once again, wherever we land, no matter what city we land in, the truck driver from that city is there to pick us up. We wait, the belt loader comes out to the plane, the ground handlers load the plane, we load the truck, we jump into the truck and go to our destination city and we help the truck driver unload the truck. Then we drag all the equipment into the locker room

Hopefully, there is a locker room. That's one of the biggest challenges we have. Because of the busy schedule of most buildings, dressing rooms aren't always available. A lot of teams don't practice in their main building. They practice in a practice facility. So in the event that it's a game-day the next day, typically we would be allowed to get into the building to hang our equipment up whatever time that may be. Quite often we're working long hours and especially on the road when you're traveling from city to city you could be up at 6 a.m. and you don't get to bed till three or four in the morning. It depends on where you're going and the travel schedule. If it's a back-to-back, you're up early again for an optional practice the next morning. Visiting teams practice on a regular game-day when the game is at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. We practice at 11:30 a.m. So, we're back at the rink at 8:30 a.m. If it's an afternoon game on a back-to-back there's not usually morning ice time available. But most teams today have extra players or players who are injured that need to skate so the ice is always available for the visiting team. Typically the training staff, the medical trainers and equipment guys, would have to be there to accommodate the extra players.

NHL.com: So, people think it's glamorous, but boy, it's a lot of work with long hours?

Stafford: Well, the other thing too is you can imagine you're going to a practice rink. Your equipment is wet after a game, you load the truck, get into the plane, you fly into the city, you go to a practice rink, you hang up your equipment and typically the practice rinks are not to the same standards of an NHL locker room.

You're concerned about the heat and making sure the equipment if dry. Also, there's the convenience of the players the next morning when they come in to practice that the coaching staff has adequate room to hang their gear and they need space. Then you've got a medical room you need set up because typically you're going to have treatments and the trainers have their medical trunks they need to set up and prepare for their treatments for the players prior to practice. And then, of course, you have 23 players who need to dress in, hopefully, a locker room that has a high standard for NHL professionals. I mean that's one of the challenges we deal with in practice rinks. The equipment has to hang to dry. We have to prepare it. We have to get the laundry done. We have to get the jerseys done. We do all those things. We prepare for practice. The players come in. We're there typically an hour-and-a-half to two hours before and after practice we pack the bags up again, wet. If we are at a practice rink we throw it back in the truck. The truck goes to the main building.

Hopefully, based on the schedule of the main building, if there's not an event in it, we can hang our equipment up again in the main building in the visitors' locker room and get it all prepared for the next day. That would be a game day, so we start all over again at 8:30 in the morning.

NHL.com: We've talked about players' equipment and bags, but how much furniture, like massage benches, and how much machinery like skate sharpeners are you carrying?

Stafford: Every team is a little different, but if you talked to 10 equipment managers you'd find that generally they carry the same number of pieces, within eight or nine pieces. Typically, on a five-to-seven game road trip we carry about 70 pieces. Of course, you have 23 players. Goalies typically have two bags each, so you're talking 25 player bags right there. We also have five coaches, including our video coach, so each of those people have a bag for their skates, gloves, sweats and each one of our training staff. There're five trainers that travel with medical equipment and massage equipment so you have five bags there. You've got probably seven trunks. We have three medical trunks, one for game jerseys, one for practice jerseys, one that's used for nutritional products and those kinds of things. We have a tape trunk, a big tool trunk, a skate sharpener; some people carry two skate sharpeners. For the video coach, he has his video trunk. Also you need a screen. Every video coach is different. We carry a massage table and then we have the extra equipment bags that can be four or five bags plus two stick bags. So, it doesn't take long to add up to 60 or 70 pieces.

NHL.com: What's the weight?

Stafford: The weight is typically about 4,500 pounds. It varies from team to team. We have to think about weight because of the airline standards that change every couple of years. So anywhere from 2,500 to 3,500 pounds, I'd say. Every team is different.

Contact John McGourty at jmcgourty@nhl.com

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