Westshore Wolves equipment managers Rick Burke (left), Landon Bourne and John Smith sharpen skates for players before a home game against the Victoria Cougars. (Lindsey Horsting /News Gazette staff)

Westshore Wolves equipment managers Rick Burke (left), Landon Bourne and John Smith sharpen skates for players before a home game against the Victoria Cougars. (Lindsey Horsting /News Gazette staff)

WATCH: Westshore Wolves’ equipment managers go the extra mile

On an average game day, Rick Burke’s team spends nine to 10 hours working behind the scenes.

The Westshore Wolves’ equipment managers love to laugh and rib each other, but they are all business when it comes to getting prepared for games or practices.

Rick Burke is in his third year with the Wolves, as is Landon Bourne, and John Smith is in his first season with the team after he was recruited by Burke, who needed more help.

Smith laughed when he said Burke tricked him into helping with the team, he asked him “Can you come down and help tonight?” Burke then proceeded to tell the team that “John will be here to help you whenever you need anything.”

There wasn’t any turning back.

Smith and Burke had worked together previously with the Victoria Grizzlies, and although Smith was in semi-retirement and enjoying working on his golf swing, he was reminded of something his friend and former business partner, Al Gillies, once said. If your friend needs help, you shouldn’t worry about anything else but helping him.

Gillies, who passed away from cancer two years ago, was the equipment manager for the Grizzlies and both Smith and Burke credit him for showing them how to run a great behind-the-scenes operation.

Burke’s goal as the lead equipment manager is to have his team know how to do each task so anyone can fill in when needed. His other goal is to give the players a taste of what being part of a professional team would be like.

Burke visited the Vancouver Canucks’ locker room when he was on the Grizzlies’ equipment team, and he said while the players were testing out sticks in the locker room, he was marveling at the industrial washer and dryer.

When he came aboard with the Wolves the locker room didn’t have a specific setup and there wasn’t much organization, so he used his past experience and knowledge to help make it what he thought it deserved. He feels that the Wolves’ ownership has been very supportive in the process.

An average day for the Wolves’ equipment team is anywhere from nine to 10 hours, Burke said. “Except for John, he sharpens skates at four o’clock and leaves by six,” Burke joked.

They have fun telling made-up stories to get each other going, no ones leaves the hallway by the Wolves’ locker room without a smile on their face.

The equipment staff has taken on responsibilities for running a camp that replaces graduating players from the Wolves squad, ordering jerseys, making posters, registration forms and updating the website.

Game days are “down time” for the equipment team, Burke said. For a 7 p.m. game the team gets in at 4 and doesn’t leave until around 11:45 p.m.

Bourne usually hangs the jerseys, puts the players’ gear under the seats and puts towels out after the game. Burke does a grocery run so the players have food after the game, laundry before and after, helps rink staff, and scrubs showers and toilets. “There’s no job too low,” Burke said.

The team has taken the initiative to streamline processes from drying gloves between periods to creating charts for practice jersey rosters. Smith creates labels for player’s sticks and on the bottom of skates so he knows how each players prefers them to be sharpened. If there’s an affiliated player coming in for a game they make sure he has a name plate for his locker.

Burke feels lucky to have athletic trainers Aaron Balson and Sukhjit “SJ” Sanghera who pitch in and do much more than taping and tending to players. Sanghera fills water bottles, fixes hockey gear and will help until they lock the doors at the end of the night. Balson and Sanghera take care of all the gear on road trips, unloading and appointing it.

Smith loves the camaraderie, and being part of a team. It’s about having fun, but also leading by example and showing the players that whatever you do, do it with purpose and the best you can, Smith said, as he meticulously sharpened the players’ skates like he’s stroking a violin with a bow.

Burke hopes that by doing this job, which is all voluntary, when the players get older they will be encouraged to give back to their communities in whatever ways they can. The players have a lot of respect for the equipment team and they thank each one of them every day, after every game, win or lose, he said.

Bourne feels his most important role is hanging the jerseys in the locker room for the team.

Rookie head coach of the Wolves, Tyler Matheson, a former professional hockey player, is amazed at the performance level of the equipment team.

“Our team is unbelievably lucky to have these guys around our organization. If it isn’t a skate sharping midway through a game or helping the team with laundry, they will go the extra mile for the players. They are the first to the rink and last to leave to make sure our players are prepared and ready to play each and every night. They even come in on days off to make sure things are organized. The one thing that gets me about everything they do, they do it with a smile,” Matheson said.

“And he [Landon] helps alongside Rick and John and does an outstanding job with game prep and during game assistance.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

lindsey.horsting@goldstreamgazette.com

Westshore WolvesWHL