Patrick Johnston: A Richmond kid works his 1,000th Canucks game
Hitting 1,000 games is nothing, Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian Hamilton insists. After all, his boss, Pat O’Neill, will hit 3,000 games later this season, a number that truly staggers over his own mark.
But 1,000 is still 1,000. And Wednesday night’s contest between the Canucks and the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena is No. 1,000 for Hamilton.
It doesn’t feel like a long time, though, Hamilton says.
“It really doesn’t,” the 46-year-old said over the phone earlier this week.
He first started part-time with the Canucks in 2002 after 13 years with the B.C. Lions.
“I think because it’s a fun job. I go to work every day with some of my closest friends,” he said.
Born and raised in Richmond, Hamilton is a somewhat unique character in Vancouver: someone who’s actually from here.
He first started with the Leos helping out on weekends in Grade 8, moved to full-time work in Grade 11.
“I was supposed to go to Richmond High but I went to McNair (Secondary School) because I could take a class at 7 a.m., so I’d be done school at noon,” he explained. “Then I’d jump in my car and drive to Whalley.”
He learned about hard work early on from a couple of legends on the Lions: athletic therapist Bill Reichelt and equipment men Creighton O’Malley and Kato Kasuya.
With the Canucks, he’s worked under O’Neill and alongside John Jukich, Mack Stewart and Ron Shute, as well as therapists Mike Bernstein — who’s now with the Vancouver Giants — and Jon Sanderson, who he also worked with at the Lions.
“We’re all close, we all know each other, we all talk,” Hamilton said of the men and women who work behind the scenes for Vancouver’s pro teams.
In the nearly two decades he’s been working in hockey, the game’s technology has obviously evolved a great deal. Skates are moulded to fit each player’s feet. Sticks are made from composite materials to a player’s personal specifications — long gone is the era of stick-doctoring.
Socks aren’t made of wool anymore. The sweaters and pants are made of lightweight material.
A lot of these innovations have made the game quicker and better, and in some ways the job of the equipment manager’s simpler — but only in the moment. The number of things to take care of have only increased.
Take skate blades — a.k.a. “steel” — for example. The newest innovation has been blades that can be snapped in and out.
“The biggest change we’ve had that’s helped us as a group of equipment guys is the changing of the steel, b ecause you don’t lose a player for a length of time to sharpen their skate anymore.
“But in turn, you have to have backup steel for every player. You have to make sure that the steel is at the same height as the other steel that you’re carrying, so that when you change a guy’s steel, t hey’re not changing their height, and I know that sounds crazy but it’s true. You can’t just throw on a steel that’s been sharpened 20 times and then he blows an edge in the game and then throw them in a brand new steel,” he said.
“And guys will change their steels now because they know it’s so quick. Which means that someone has to keep sharpening steels. So, in our system, Mack stays in the room and is just sharpening steels all the time, since if you replace a steel you’ve got to get the one you’ve taken out back to the same sharpness as the one that’s just gone in … In some ways it’s made our job harder but the benefit is that you never have a guy missing a shift.”
Helmets have finally caught up too: CCM has introduced a head-scanning setup that helps them manufacture custom-moulded helmets.
The equipment managers do so much more than keep the players ready to play — they’re an ear to bend for advice retired Canuck Daniel Sedin said.
“They have such a good sense if you need support,” he said. “When players are struggling they can sense that, that they need to talk, or how to lighten the mood. Henrik and I, we struggled badly the first few years, they were always smiling.”
Hamilton’s first season was the Sedins’ third. Sedin said it did stand out that Hamilton was a fellow redhead.
“We felt familiar right away,” he laughed. “I would call him a great friend. I’m so happy for him that he’s reached 1,000.
“As players during the season you go through so many intense moments, you’re so focused on your team, you almost forget the outside world, that’s where they come in and put in a great perspective on things,” he explained. “The trainers become your best friends on the team.”
Guys like O’Neill and Hamilton also are important pillars of the team’s culture, Sedin added.
Players come and go, but the trainers, certainly in the Canucks’ universe, have always been a constant.
“They’re a big part of that, they make a team great too,” he explained. “They’re so big for the culture of the team they’ve been through Trevor Linden and guys like that, they know how they acted, they’re so professional. They don’t say, ‘Hey, you know Trevor used to do it this way,’ but they have the, ‘This is what great players do’ perspective. Those players put the towels in the bins. (The trainers) uphold the good locker-room.”
“The amount of work they put down, it’s remarkable, they keep the locker-room a safe place for the players,” he added. “(Hamilton’s) worked for a lot of great teams, you maybe forget that as a player. It’s crazy, you can take them for granted, but then you’d think about it and realize they’re there when you get in the morning, they have everything prepared, and they’re there at the end of the day.”
Sedin said it was when he and his brother started having families that things really started to click for them as players and the training staff where an important support network in bridging everything in their lives together.
“The moment that me and Henrik started playing better was when we had kids, it gave us a bigger sense of perspective, of what you’re playing for,” he said. “(The trainers) have families too, you spend a lot of time talking with them.
“The Canucks have been so fortunate to have such great trainers for such a long time,” Sedin said.