Like clockwork when the San Jose Sharks training camp opens, a very familiar face reappears. Tom “Woody” Woodcock, the Sharks original trainer, annually returns from New England for training camp, as well as the playoffs, to lend a helping hand.
Woodcock is a legend in the NHL and the Sharks training room at HP Pavilion is dedicated to him. His extended tenure with three NHL clubs provided him with the best seat in the house for more than 10,000 NHL contests in 37 years. His passion for the game started at a very young age.
“I was a rink rat who started skating at eight-years-old,” said Woodcock. “I played high school hockey and we had to clean the ice for the arena. They let us skate for free.”
Woodcock is a product of Providence, Rhode Island and he has since retired back to his home region. He still remembers the early year in his hometown fondly.
“All the teams played at the old arena on Main Street,” said Woodcock.
When high school was complete, Woodcock was not angling for an off-ice job in the sports world. He wanted to make his living skating.
“I was signed (by the Providence Reds) and they farmed me out to New Haven and Toledo of the International and Eastern leagues,” said Woodcock.
It was during his pro stint that he was directed to the training side of hockey.
“Brown University played out of the same arena and the coach said he’d like me to work for Brown and take classes,” said Woodcock. “I said, no, I wanted to be a hockey player. I went to our GM in Providence and he told me I was too light (to play) and I went back and took the offer. I took courses at Brown and ended up as the assistant trainer at Providence.”
Not the plan he originally hoped for, but this began Woodcock on his NHL path.
“One day Lynn Patrick (the former Boston general manager) came up to me and said there was going to be a big NHL expansion,” said Woodcock. “He was going to be the G.M. of a team in St. Louis and asked if I’d like to be their trainer. I thought it was just for one year, but 16 years later, I was still with the same team.”
From there, Woodcock moved back to New England.
“When a new owner came in, he told all of us we could keep the same job if we took a $2,500 cut,” said Woodcock. “Emile Francis didn’t take it either and he went to Hartford to be the G.M. He took me with him. It was Hartford’s first year in the NHL (after being taken in from the WHA).”
The final stop of Woodcock’s NHL career came in San Jose, a place he never expected to have NHL hockey or a place he never thought he would make a home in for so long.
“I came here just to help Jack Ferreira (the Sharks first general manager) put the training staff together,” said Woodcock. “I thought it would be one year again. We were working (in a building downtown) and the arena wasn’t built yet when I got here.”
The 75-year-old Woodcock’s full-time tenure in San Jose ended with his retirement a few years ago, but he still enjoys the trips back to the Bay Area to work with the kids and vets during camp and to ride the playoff train.
“This was my 40th training camp,” said the very spry Woodcock. “You’ve got to stay active. People now sit in front of the TV. You’ve got to get out there. Now I work at a golf course. The Blackledge Country Club in Hebron, Connecticut. Kevin Higgins is the pro there and we have a good time. The owner is a good guy too.”
All that time has led to a lot of stories and a lot of good friends. A favorite story of his?
“When I was in St. Louis, we had a player in downtown St. Louis and he couldn’t find the rink,” said Woodcock. “We told him to look at a street sign. He told us he was at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.”
Another story involved a great call up of a retired player.
“One night in the playoffs, Scotty Bowman called Doug Harvey, who was coaching in the minors,” said Woodcock. “He said he wanted Harvey to play. We ended up beating Pittsburgh and they couldn’t get the puck from Harvey.”
The relationships were the best part though.
“There were a lot of great players,” said Woodcock. “Bobby Orr was great to us even though he was with Boston. There was Gary Unger and Doug Harvey. Jaques Plant. Dave Lowry was always really good here. Joe Thornton
and Nabby are great guys. They’re always great to the trainers.”
In his early days, the staffs weren’t as large as today.
“I was the trainer and equipment manager, but the players did a lot,” said Woodcock. “They carried their own bags. We never washed the underwear, we just hung it up to dry. Back then, there wasn’t much money for the players. They only thing they played for was the jersey. It was a flag on their backs.”
There is still one goal left for Woodcock and he hopes the Sharks help him accomplish it this year.
“I’ve still got my ring sizer,” said Woodcock about the necessary equipment should the Stanley Cup be won. “It’s ready to go. I had it for three years in the Finals in St. Louis.”
It’s been quite a ride for Woodcock and fortunately for him and the Sharks, the hockey part still keeps going for parts of the season.
DIFFICULT FORMER PROSPECT NOTE
Former Sharks goaltender prospect Scott Cashman died Monday from a heart-related issue according to the Ottawa Citizen. He was 39. Cashman was part of the dispersal draft when the Sharks were originally created.
The six-foot-three netminder has his career end early shortly after college. While playing for the Adirondack Red Wings in the American Hockey League, Cashman cracked his tailbone. Upon examination, doctors diagnosed Cashman with Ankylosing Spondylitis, an inflammation of the vertebrae, which can lead to arthritis. When Cashman learned of this, he immediately retired.
He is survived by his wife, Sherry, and children Markie and Johnny. A funeral mass will be held in his hometown of Kanata, Ont., on Friday, October 3.
The Sharks will close out their preseason schedule Sunday in a 5 p.m. battle with the Los Angeles Kings in Salt Lake City. The contest can be heard on 98.5 KFOX and on www.kfox.com.