Pete Rogers sharpened his first skate for the Nashville Predators in the fall of 1998.
The expansion franchise was set to begin play that autumn, and Rogers, the newly-appointed Head Equipment Manager, was the man in charge of acquiring and tending to the paraphernalia worn each night by 18 skaters and two goaltenders.
Over an estimated 144,000 skate sharpenings later, Rogers still holds the same title for the first and only NHL club he’s ever worked for.
Combine that tenure with his time spent doing the same for the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League and the Hampton Roads Admirals of the East Coast Hockey League, and Rogers is scheduled to work professional hockey game No. 2,000 as an equipment manager on Saturday when the Preds close out the 2014-15 regular season in Dallas.
“It’s amazing how the time does fly,” Rogers said last week from his equipment room at Centennial Sportsplex, the Predators practice facility. “I mean, I can’t believe we’ve been here since 1998. It’s hard to imagine.”
What probably isn’t as difficult to believe is the fact that Rogers has held the position for as long as he has, considering his ability to work not only with the players, but his fellow trainers and staff, endearing himself to those who need sticks, skates, gloves and the like.
Tasked with managing all of the equipment needs for the Predators since Day One, Rogers, who will be honored by the Preds on Thursday against Minnesota, is one of the proud few who have been with the franchise since the beginning.
Rogers has not only spent the majority of his career in Nashville, he’s also represented his country at the 2006 and 2014 Winter Olympics, serving as the Equipment Manager for the U.S. Men’s National Team on both occasions. Add that to World Championships and NHL All-Star Game appearances, and the SUNY Brockport grad has amassed an impressive resume.
“He’s awesome, he’s like the staple here,” Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of Rogers. “Even though I’ve only been here a year or so, I’ve gotten to work with him for the United States, and he’s just a terrific person, terrific at what he does. It’s not easy when everybody’s pulling at you to fix their equipment and he keeps such a good disposition about him. He’s one of the best.”
The transition this season with Laviolette has undoubtedly been a smooth one between coach and equipment manager, but Rogers likely wouldn’t have ended up in Nashville if it weren’t for the Preds former bench boss.
While Rogers was serving as the Equipment Manager and Director of Team Travel for the Americans in the mid-90s, his team met the Portland Pirates and then-Head Coach Barry Trotz in the 1996 Calder Cup Final.
After the Americans won Game Seven in their building to claim the championship, Trotz found Rogers after the game and motioned for the equipment manager. Amid the celebration outside, Trotz and the Pirates couldn’t find their team bus.
“I dropped what I was doing and we walked around the front of the building and we found their bus,” Rogers recalled. “Afterward, I shook [Trotz’s] hand and said, ‘good luck, we’ll see you soon,’ and he called two years later.
“There’s 30 head equipment managers and we all do our jobs differently, but it’s the people aspect and taking care of people that Barry remembered. That got me a foot in the door to interview.”
Thanks in part to the assistance he provided that night, Rogers found himself standing behind the Nashville bench as the puck dropped for the first time in franchise history on Oct. 10, 1998, and has continued to do so ever since.
“It was hard for me to move because I had been in Rochester my whole life,” Rogers said, “but it was the best thing I ever did.”
While behind the bench, Rogers admits that he’ll get caught up in the excitement of the game every once in a while, but for the most part, he’s focused on a different aspect. If Shea Weber breaks a stick or Filip Forsberg needs a new skate blade, it’s Rogers who is ready and waiting.
“I watch the game in a different way than everybody else watches the game,” Rogers said. “I’m there to react when things go wrong…You hope that you’re always organized so you can respond the way it needs to be to get the right things out there, but I do watch the game differently than everybody else.”
With players skating upward of 20 mph and pucks flying over five times that speed, equipment is bound to suffer a malfunction at some point. The timeliness in which the situation is rectified may go unnoticed by those in the stands or watching on television, but not by the 18 skaters who are always ready to go for their next shift.
“Pete and the trainers, they do so much work that no one sees and they don’t get enough credit for what they do,” Preds forward Mike Fisher said. “They’re a big part of the team and we can’t do our jobs without them doing their thing behind the scenes. Plus, Pete’s a great guy and fun to work with.”
Working with players and their needs is a rather large bullet point in the job description. Rogers is constantly speaking with players about their equipment, finding out what they do and don’t prefer and how to best prepare the materials to a player’s liking. In this aspect of the profession, Rogers believes the outline is simple.
“The thing about these players, they’re such high-class athletes,” Rogers said. “They know what they need, they know the tools they need to do their job. Who would I be to tell them they’re wrong? You listen to what they have to say and you get them what they need.”
Whether that’s the aforementioned 144,000 skate sharpenings or the ordering of over 61,000 sticks during his time with the Preds, Rogers has his craft down to a science. In his eyes, the respect that he’s shown in return is affirmation of the job he does night in and night out.
“I feel like the people we have, the players we have playing here, they’re all good people,” Rogers said. “They’re very patient and understanding of what we do, and they’re very respectful of what we do. Everybody has a job to do and my job isn’t any more important than another trainer’s job; everybody’s kind of pulling the same rope, shooting for the same goal, and that’s to win.”
The Preds have done plenty of that this season, and in seasons past. For someone who’s seen every game the franchise has ever partaken in, the task of picking out a favorite instance over the past 17 campaigns may seem daunting, but Rogers was rather quick to decide when the question was posed.
“Probably the greatest moment was when we beat Anaheim [in the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals, the franchise’s first playoff series win],” Rogers said. “It was kind of mayhem in the locker room, and when [Predators General Manager] David Poile walked in the room, we looked at each other and hugged, and it was just this huge relief that we finally were able to get the right bounces and we were finally able to win a playoff series.
“I’ve met so many good people along the way down here. This is such a great place to live, such a great place to work and there’s so many good people that have worked with the organization, players and staff. But that playoff series, it was probably the most special moment.”
With the Predators set to participate in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, their first postseason appearance since 2011-12, the hope is that there will be plenty more moments for Rogers to recall in due time. But for now, the focus is solely on game No. 1,999. And then 2,000. Followed by 2,001.
Rogers will never have a 20-goal season. He’ll never have to answer to the media after a tough loss. He doesn’t have fans lining up for a jersey with his name on the back, but those that do share in the excitement for the man who makes sure they have what they need to perform each game.
“Pete’s one of the best,” Preds forward Matt Cullen said. “I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had working with Pete this year and last year, and it’s pretty cool to reach a milestone like that; it’s pretty impressive. He’s just a great guy and he brings a great attitude to the rink every day. He’s very good at what he does, but more importantly, he’s a great guy and a good person to have in the room. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Rogers is rather content as well. Sure, the travel is tough and being away from his family for prolonged periods of time is never easy, but there’s something about the game he doesn’t tire of.
After all, he’s done it almost 2,000 times. And the next skate is already waiting to be sharpened.
“To be able to stand behind the bench and watch the greatest League in the world, the greatest athletes in the world every night,” Rogers said, “that’s pretty special.”