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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Rip Simonick (Photo: Buffalo Sabres)
No one is gearing up for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic more than Dave Williams.

As an equipment manager for the Buffalo Sabres, he has little choice in the matter.

Bringing dozens of sticks, extra supplies and a substantial amount of underwear, Williams has a daunting task ahead of him at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Jan. 1. And that doesn't include what must be done after the puck is dropped.

“We have probably been working on it since October,” Williams said. “We are overloading on clothing just to keep the guys warm, and we are still coming up with ideas… because we don’t know what the temperature is going to be like that day.”

One of those options includes giving each player a mask underneath their helmet- “like a skier’s hood that comes down over the face,” Williams said.

Others range from wearing mock turtlenecks and long underwear to having coffee and hot beverages on-hand in the locker room.

While the ideas are helpful, Williams said no matter how much the Sabres plan, the outdoor game is likely to be pure improvisation.

“We are just kind of winging it right now,” he said. “There are things that we are used to having on our hands here in the building that we just have to think of before [the game] in case something comes up. If a guy breaks his stick or something like that we can’t just run in the back to the Bills’ storage room and ask for a replacement. We just have to make sure that we have that extra stuff on-hand.”

Part of that gear includes having additional glove driers at the stadium- a total of eight to be exact- as potential precipitation and wet conditions could hinder the equipment crew from drying them out.

“Hockey locker rooms like to have heat to dry equipment, so we aren’t too sure if the Bills locker room can crank it up to 80 or 90 degrees [Fahrenheit],” Williams said. “We try to keep the equipment as dry as possible. So it’s going to be a challenge.”

As the locker room at Ralph Wilson is much further from the ice than the Sabres are used to, extra skate sharpeners will also be on loan and rinkside.

“They said it’s like a minute to walk from the locker room to the ice,” Williams said. “So if I can just run behind the bench it will save me some time… and I’m not doing wind sprints.”

The amount of equipment needed is not the only change Williams has had to adapt to. The Reebok Edge jerseys will be sporting an entirely different look.

In addition to the old logo being implemented, there are also a few other modifications to the uniform.

George Babcock (Photo: Buffalo Sabres)
According to Williams, the Reebok Edge II jersey will make it’s debut Jan. 1.

“The Edge I jersey that came out this season was the one with the play-dry impregnated on the front with real tight sleeves,” he said. “Since then, because the players complained so much about the sweaters, they have developed the Edge II they call it. The jerseys do not have the play-dry in the front; it is more of an air-knit material like it used to be. There are also bigger sleeves.”

Other alterations will be made as the game progresses.

“I heard about the visors [getting fogged up] so we are kind of going to keep that in mind,” Williams said. “That will be an issue that we will have to tackle as it comes. We don’t know what to expect. Regarding the ice, that’s another thing that the current conditions will determine. Normally the ice is at 19 degrees [Fahrenheit] inside the building. If the ice is hard I’ll sharpen [the skates] a little deeper and if it’s softer ice, just not as sharp.”

The skates are also an issue when the players exit the ice. The league is taking precautions to ensure that the blades do not ruin the Bills’ locker room in the process.

“The NHL is covering every square inch of the flooring because they don’t know where players are going to go for skates and stuff,” Williams said. “The visitor’s locker room has these metal bars on the stalls, so they are covering all those in case guys hit those with their skates and stuff. We are also planning on making players wear their skate guards all the way to the ice and when they get there take them off.”

The league is most concerned, however, with protecting the players from cold. Heated benches will be in place for the Sabres and the Penguins, and coaches will be issued wool jackets to wear throughout the game.

“It will be fun. It doesn’t happen every season, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime hopefully,” Williams joked. “I know the guys from Montreal said it was tough at the time but when they look back they realize it was an event and it was nice to be a part of. So we are looking forward to making it a success.”

If Williams requires any help in doing so, he may want to turn to Drew Stafford. His uncle, Barrie Stafford, was the equipment manager for the Edmonton Oilers in 2003 in the Heritage Classic.

It wouldn’t hurt to be equipped with some answers.
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