Brock Myles has some experience outfitting the Washington Capitals
for outdoor hockey, but maybe not quite like what he and the team will experience Jan. 1 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Myles, the team's head equipment manager, has helped the Capitals prepare for practices on an outdoor rink at Chevy Chase Club in suburban Washington, D.C. in past years, but those workouts were in front of a small group of fans. The 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, at a football stadium with the capacity for more than 65,000 fans, is a little different.
"For a guy like me it is more … I wouldn't say nervous, but kind of getting prepared," Myles said. "I'm excited for when the puck drops, but the amount of equipment, supplies and everything else that goes into this, and we can't forget anything. It is a little bit of pressure to make sure we have everything, but the most excited I'll be is when we walk out there for the first time in a game situation and see what it is all about."
Myles has been preparing for the event for a while now.
"I'm excited for when the puck drops, but the amount of equipment, supplies and everything else that goes into this, and we can't forget anything. It is a little bit of pressure to make sure we have everything, but the most excited I'll be is when we walk out there for the first time in a game situation and see what it is all about." -- Brock Myles, Washington Capitals equipment manager
He's been in contact with equipment managers from Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit to learn about their Winter Classic experiences and see if they have any tips. He's also spent a lot of time talking to Dana Heinze, the head equipment manager for the Pittsburgh Penguins
Not only will Heinze's team be seated across from Myles, but Heinze also has a Winter Classic on his resume after the Penguins played in the inaugural game in 2008 in Buffalo.
"Oh yeah, we've spoken more than a few times because he's done it before so I ask him a lot of questions. We both want to make sure each staff are not forgetting something," Myles said. "The war is on the ice -- it is not off the ice. We have to make sure we take care of both teams and that's our job. It is a very close-knit community, because we all have the same goal -- make sure the players are safe and comfortable and able to play the game without any interruptions. We all get along well and talk amongst each other to make sure nothing gets forgotten."
One of the biggest challenges for Myles and his staff, which includes assistants Craig Leydig and Jeff Lewis, will be keeping the players warm, particularly when the team practices at Heinz Field the day before the game. The benches will be heated for the Classic, but having players on the ice for practice will be another matter.
A couple of the Capitals' players mentioned wearing heat packs in their skates when they were growing up and playing outside. Myles said extra layers of clothing have been key for the team's previous outdoor practices. The players will be fitted with special cold-weather gear worn by NFL players during the winter months.
"I think we'll probably suck it up for 60 minutes out there," Matt Bradley
said. "When we used to wear heat packs in our skates it was because we were on the ice for like four or five hours. Your feet would fall asleep and freeze up. I think we'll be OK. We're big boys and we can handle it now.
"I am sure leading up the game will be stressful for those (equipment) guys. I think we're wearing new equipment and we're going to a place that is not normally a hockey venue. Those guys always do a great job, and it is a thankless job because no one really sees all the work they put it into it. They put in a lot more hours in at the rink than we do, and for a thing like the Winter Classic it will probably be even more hours. I doubt they get much sleep on New Year's (Eve)."
Myles has had help from the League on a number of other issues while trying to coordinate his staff's plan for the event. He has blueprints and pictures of Washington's dressing room and other areas where players will be.
It will be a meticulously crafted plan, but if everything goes well it will be a smooth couple of days for the players and a rewarding experience for the team's equipment staff.
"The only game plans for us are if there is extreme cold and extreme light," Myles said. "We will take enough tinted visors if the guys want to wear tinted visors if it is too sunny out. We are going to have stuff for our guys if it is going to be too cold. There's not much we can do with rain or snow -- just extreme cold and extreme sun."
Added Bradley: "There's going to be a whole new set of headaches for them to deal with, but I bet they take it in stride and do a great job."