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The boys in the box get the best seats in the house

by Matt Vevoda
Ric Nichols and Greg Jowyk have two of the best seats at Honda Center for every Anaheim Ducks game, but exasperation fills the faces of the men who most often join them in their spots.

Their seats are located in the penalty box, where Nichols and Jowyk serve as penalty box attendants for the Ducks. In their workplace, the nerves of players from around the NHL are tested after each whistle or drop of the gloves. While they usher players in and out of the penalty box, the job entails far more than you might think.

"A lot of people that just watch the games say, 'Oh, so you just open a door?'" says Jowyk, a native of Pittsburgh. "They don't know, but there's a lot more to it."

Nichols and Jowyk (pronounced YOW-ick) have worked as a team since the 2003-04 season, though they've each been off-ice officials with the Ducks for more than a decade.

Prior to each game the men, clad in their black blazers with the NHL logo, carefully walk out of the Zamboni tunnel onto the ice to reach their workplace.

"There are still some arenas that make you get in without going on the ice," Jowyk says. "I think that makes it special for us getting to walk out there."

Upon arrival, Nichols, an off-ice crew member since the inaugural 1993-94 season, retreats to the Ducks' penalty box where he's been since 1999. Jowyk, who joined the crew in the Ducks' third season, goes to his familiar spot in the visitor's box. Between the men sits Steve Bashe, the supervisor of off-ice officials since the club's inaugural season, flanking the official timekeeper and the public address announcer.

"The atmosphere here (at Honda Center) is great," said Nichols, a Detroit native. "The fans are great around the stands. We never have to bring security down and chase them away from players."

Other than manning the penalty-box door, one of the most important responsibilities for Nichols and Jowyk is tracking each time a penalty occurs and expires. Sitting with both men at each game is a clipboard adorned with a worksheet where penalties are recorded and ultimately get sent to the League. While some penalties are put up on the scoreboard for everyone in attendance to see, not all are. In those situations, Nichols and Jowyk are the main source for penalty inquiries.

"If there's a fighting major, it doesn't go up on the clock, so you have to know when they come out," Jowyk said. "It's stuff that we know that the casual fan might not know."

"If there's a fighting major, it doesn't go up on the clock, so you have to know when they come out. It's stuff that we know that the casual fan might not know." -- Greg Jowyk

Some players tend to look to Nichols and Jowyk even when they clearly can see the time remaining in the penalty above them on the scoreboard.

"I remember one time I had a player ask me when he got out of the box and the time was on the clock," Nichols said. "All he had to do was look up at the clock, but he wanted to know from me. I just kind of looked up at the board and said, 'Well, a minute forty-two."

While penalties constantly are on their mind, there is more to their jobs. Nichols provides game pucks to referees fresh from the freezer that sits on the left side of his box, and Jowyk holds a stopwatch throughout games as the official backup timekeeper. And while doing their jobs, they have to watch for flying pucks, dropped sticks that referees have them hold, and tenants in their box trying to get to each other.

The best part of the gig for Nichols and Jowyk is having better-than-front-row seats to watch the best athletes in the world.

"It's exciting because you're right there on the glass for every game," Nichols said. "You can actually see the faces of the players and the concentration in their eyes. It's like a wind sprint every time they're out there on a shift. You also might get fortunate and have a fight break out right in front of you."

Some players tend to interact with Nichols and Jowyk when they serve time in the box.

"Sometimes you can chit-chat with them," Nichols said. "You have to sit there and wait and see if they're going to talk with you or not."

Although Nichols serves in the Ducks' box, it is unanimous between he and Jowyk that Brad May is the best talker on the current team, as Jowyk can attest from May's previous stops in the visitor's box with other teams.

"When he was with Phoenix, Brad May talked up a storm with me," Jowyk said.

"Brad May is one of the most sociable guys on the team and a great ambassador of the game," added Nichols. "(Todd) Marchant will also talk, George Parros, too, and Corey Perry will talk once in a while. Some players just don't say a word."

Among the best talkers in the visitor's box, Jowyk singles out Colorado forward Ian Laperriere, a 16-year NHL veteran.

"Ian Laperriere is awesome," said Jowyk. "Every time he comes in, it's, 'Long time, no see. How's the family? How's this? How's that?' It's like he knows you personally. (Sean) Avery is a non-stop talker, but we can't repeat what he says."

Unlike many NHL arenas, no glass separates the home and visiting penalty boxes at Honda Center. While that helps Nichols, Jowyk and Bashe communicate with each other, it also allows two combatants to verbally spar after they get done doing it physically.

"We did have one issue where one of the former Ducks players threatened to get into the visiting box," Bashe said. "He got as far as my chair, which ended up with a permanent skate mark in it. But that was the only time we ever had any kind of situation."

When opposing players engage in conversation between boxes, it's not always hostile dialogue, even if they've just got done fighting each other.

"Sometimes it might look like they're jawing back and forth, but they're not really jawing," said Nichols. "They're having a conversation because they know each other from previous teams or from minor leagues."

Added Jowyk, "I like when the fighters get in there and start complimenting each other, 'Hey, good punch, good hit, how's the wife?'”

Nichols vividly remembers one particular instance where a former Ducks player and an opponent entered the box after a scuffle.

"The players really went at it right in front of us on the glass," he said. "After the referees pulled them apart and threw them on the bench, they sat down and the guy in the visitor's box yells over, 'I hear you're scoring some goals now?' The guy in my box answers back 'Yeah, I got a couple. How you doing? I hear you got a dog.' You wouldn't think they'd just beaten each other up on the ice by their casual conversation."

No one knows better than Nichols and Jowyk that a lot more goes on in the penalty boxes than one might think. That's especially true for work they do at Honda Center.

"This isn't your every-day kind of job, and there aren't too many guys who get to do it at this level," Nichols said, getting a nod from Jowyk. "It's a dream job. And it's the best seat in the house."

Matt Vevoda is Publications and New Media Coordinator for the Anaheim Ducks.

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