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Equipped For Success

by Cody Eastwood / Dallas Stars

Everyone has their role.  A team captain must lead by example and snipers must score. Defensemen have the responsibility to shut down the most slippery of skaters, and goaltending needs to be stellar. Aside from ability and intelligence, don’t underestimate the importance of the equipment a player takes into battle. Skates, sticks, pads of various varieties, jerseys, and even the type of chewing gum that is provided, all falls under  the jurisdiction of the team’s equipment staff.

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We have seen these apparel guardians at games ready to pounce when a skater breaks a twig or snaps a helmet strap. How do they fix the problem at hand? Why are they so prepared? There are three men with the Stars who have those answers.

A veteran of 11 seasons with the Stars, Head Equipment Manager Steve Sumner has worked at all levels of hockey, from Dallas’ Central Hockey League team to the Houston Aeros of the International Hockey League. Sumner’s two assistant equipment managers, Dennis Soetaert and Donny White have also been in the trenches before, both serving as head equipment managers at one point in their careers.

Soetaert, in his fifth season with the Stars, and White, in his first, are both considered Sumner’s right-hand men. The recent schedule had the team playing three games over a four night stretch. According to Soetaert, “We’ve had some late nights recently and then early mornings the next day. We’ve been going to sleep at two-thirty in the morning and back up again the next morning at six-thirty.”

There’s no rest for the weary as the equipment staff is up again on a humid, sticky Thursday morning on the team’s non-skate day. They are busy repairing and sharpening skates, replacing steel, and even stretching several players’ skates. “On gamedays we’ll work on skates from seven-thirty in the morning, through the morning skate, until around eleven-thirty,” commented Sumner. The head boss of the group has no doubts about his skate-sharpening abilities and will usually take the lead in this role. “I do an ‘A’ job, Dennis a ‘B’ and Donny a ‘C’.” This playful comment is a usual line from a trio who tries to keep themselves in a joyful spirit. The job can be stressful due to the lack of down days. White, not fazed by the small jab by his boss, believes in this method to keep everyone sane. “You have to keep the mood light. You see these guys more than your actual family during the season.”

While the morning may start with skate maintenance at Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, there are other tasks that need to be attended to. The equipment managers must unload and restock the club’s travel truck. The Stars are considered a club that travels “heavy”, meaning the equipment staff is self efficient on most away trips because they carry their own essentials. “We don’t ask for very much while on the road,” recounted Soetaert.

Dallas will bring close to thirteen trunks filled with must-haves, weighing close to two hundred pounds each, depending on the contents. Among the plethora of skate and stick accoutrements, one trunk includes a particular item vital to the team’s road success. Gum. “Coach’s gum is green-colored and the players will chew Double-Bubble or blue and pink colored gum. I won’t tell you who enjoys the pink gum,” grinned Soetaert.

As the players move through the season, some enjoy staying with their original gear while others love trying out shiny new toys. The threesome is always ready for whatever requests come their way.  “Older gear feels more comfortable for some players. Trevor Daley’s shin guards are the same ones he’s been wearing since he was fourteen years old. We do a lot of repairs on equipment,” said Soetaert.  Some players spend the season trying out the latest and greatest hockey sticks. According to Sumner’s calculations, each player has no less than twelve sticks available at all times, each unique to that particular player’s wants and needs. “I would estimate we have around $300,000 worth of sticks.”

Whether it is sharpening skates, sewing and stitching a patch, or restocking the impressive stick room, the three are confident with each other’s capabilities as Soetaert explains. “We all know how to do everything so that if someone can’t make a practice or game, we feel comfortable picking up the slack. We’ve all been there before and know what to do.”

Sumner, Soetaert, and White all started perfecting their craft in the minor leagues for multiple seasons before earning a call-up to the National Hockey League. Soetaert relates his job to a hockey player’s quest to the big leagues. “It is the same concept as players moving up from the minors to the NHL . Proving yourself and earning a good reputation in the minors…and you must be willing to work over forty hours a week.”

This past November 3rd at American Airlines Center, the Stars organization celebrated a career milestone for Sumner – his 1,500th National Hockey League game. His career started in 1989 with Adirondack of the American Hockey League. Simply put, “Hard work,” is how Sumner made it to ‘The Show’, a phrase for making it to the National Hockey League.

That high-caliber work ethic will continue to push all three men toward excellence for years to come.

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