Student Equipment Managers Help Hockey Valley Run Smoothly
There’s a lot of buzz around Penn State men’s hockey following the program’s meteoric rise from an ACHA powerhouse to a ranked NCAA Division-I squad.
As the Nittany Lions’ fourth season at the NCAA’s highest level inches closer toward the Big Ten Tournament, the program’s unsung heroes become busier and busier. The team’s equipment managers play an essential role behind the scenes for both the nation’s 15th-ranked men’s team and the women’s squad in Hockey Valley.
Kevin Seifert, a junior marketing major, spent time around the rink his freshman year and was so impressed that he sent head equipment manager Adam Sheehan an email on a whim. Collin Kearns, a junior management information system major, spent his freshman year as a Pegula usher and was so enamored with the direction of the program that he did the same. Now, both are integral parts of the team, and put in countless hours to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Both are loyal Philadelphia Flyers fans and have plenty of ties to the ice through friends and family, but interestingly, neither played hockey growing up. “I had a couple friends who played hockey in high school…my brother also played hockey, so I’ve always been around it,” Kearns said. Both were familiar with everything the university has to offer, however. “My sister went to Penn State, a few cousins went to Penn State. I’m mainly from a Villanova family, but I definitely have some Penn State connections,” Seifert said.
There are certainly some awesome perks associated with being an equipment manager — like traveling with the team to every away game and getting the first look at the Nittany Lions’ impeccable gray alternate jerseys — but a lot of hard work goes into making sure the team is ready for each practice and game.
“Every day for practice, we come in right as the guys are getting off the ice, grab their laundry, usually just throw that in the wash, and then we’ll go and get their workout gear and their towels and wash that,” Seifert said. “Then the players start to trickle out of the training room, and we’ll get their training stuff and do the same thing for the women’s team. We’ll clean up the locker room, set it up for the next day, put out the jerseys, fold the socks, then rehang their threads in their stalls.”
Keep in mind, that’s just practice. Even more goes into making game day in Hockey Valley, and on the road, a success. “We come in about two and a half hours before the game. The locker room is usually set up by then, because someone also comes in at noon and does laundry after morning skate,” Kearns said. “We set up the benches, bring the sticks out, set up the penalty boxes. Then we’re usually here about two hours after the game because we have to do their laundry and the other team’s laundry depending on if it’s Friday or Saturday.”
When the Nittany Lions travel long distances, like their cross-country trips to Alaska the last two seasons (Anchorage this past November and Fairbanks the year before), being precise with exactly what to pack is key for the entire equipment management staff, which also includes students Erik Frasca and Lauren Deckman. “Anchorage is one of the more inconvenient trips for equipment. Last year they shipped a lot of it with UPS Freight; this year [Sheehan] told the guys to pack in their bags what they needed cause we weren’t bringing too much extra equipment. We just brought the necessities. Flying commercial instead of charter, you have to lug all that equipment through the airport, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” Seifert said.
Traveling to Madison Square Garden for the inaugural Big Ten Super Saturday Hoops and Hockey doubleheader in January was much easier logistically, but still provided some interesting quirks. “You can’t get into the locker room until really late because they have restrictions, so it was a lot of moving around the gear and the trunks that go along with it. We didn’t get into the locker room until 6:30 in the morning, and we didn’t actually get the stuff up to the locker room level until 12:30 the night before,” Kearns said.
When reflecting on the most rewarding part of their experience thus far working with the team, Seifert summed it up extremely well. “Being a part of the growth of the program is so rewarding. When I signed on to do this job, I had no idea they would come along this fast, so just to be at all the games and see them both on-ice and then in the locker room, [and to see] how the guys have really come together and become a team has been the best part.” Kearns has found the position to be excellent preparation for his future. “Meeting new people, and the connections I’m making. You meet new people every year, different types of people within the athletic department, people from different teams. It’s cool just to go the different rinks and different states we really wouldn’t have the opportunity to do otherwise.”
At the end of the day, this is clearly one of the more exciting jobs a student can have during their time at Penn State. Working in the equipment room is a year-long commitment stretching from October to perhaps even early April if the Nittany Lions qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean the job doesn’t entail some fun. “Game days and practice, it’s all business, but when the guys come off the ice, it’s a lot more fun and laid back,” Seifert said. “The guys will stay late after practice and play ping-pong, and the road trips we’ll have a blast on the bus and when we’re out to dinner. I think everyone sees the serious side of hockey, but the locker room side is a lot more laid back and fun than a lot of guys really know.”