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Notre Dame Hockey’s 7th Man

Jan 2, 2014, 11:54 PM EST

Anna Gonzalez, the official 2013-14 hockey beat writer for the Irish UNDerground blog, is currently a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. Over the course of the year Anna will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories from inside the team circle. You can follow Anna (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

You’ve probably noticed already, but hockey requires a whole lot of equipment. From the helmet, to the skates, and to all the pads in between, someone has to take care of it. Dave “Gilly” Gilbert is Notre Dame Hockey’s equipment manager, and he does way more than you can imagine.

I shadowed Gilly for just one hour—11:30 AM to 12:30 PM—on Friday, December 6 to see just what he does on game day.

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Gilly’s wall of pucks.

When I arrived, he was pulling jerseys and socks (which are actually more like pants) out of storage in the equipment room to hang in the locker room. The equipment room is a well-organized part-library and part-museum. Half the room is filled with moving shelves stocked with the team’s equipment and a large shelf of cubes to store sticks. The rest of the room is adorned with collectables and memorabilia Gilly has collected over the years: signed sticks, skates, and helmets, photos autographed by NHL players who used to play for Notre Dame, and a section of the wall is dedicated to displaying pucks from any tournament, team, and building you can remember Notre Dame playing in. For a room with cinder-block walls and a concrete floor, the equipment room feels impressively homey. And Gilly assured me it’s much more accommodating than where he was two years ago: the Joyce Center Rink.

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Most players keep 3 or 4 sticks taped and ready at all times.

Several cabinets in the equipment room contain trunks and bags purposed for travel. “When we go on the road, we try to take as much as we can, I guess. I usually pack two brand new sticks per guy, and the three they have taped here. We have a jersey trunk, so we’ll pack all of our jerseys and socks in that trunk. Then I have these equipment trunks—basically everything that’s in here (skate sharpener, glove dryer, etc.) in smaller versions. Of course, because it’s a small fraternity, I know a lot of the staff around, so I can borrow whatever I need, which is pretty rare in college athletics. Hockey is pretty rare in that regard.”

With the switch to Hockey East, the team had to start flying to play teams that are much further away than their former CCHA competition, but since they charter their flights, it didn’t create too much of an issue for Gilly. He can still take just about everything he used to. Frozen Fenway creates a unique scenario, however. “When we go to Fenway Park, we’re going to fly commercially, so what I’ll do is something similar to what football does, which is send some of our gear out on a truck. Going through TSA with all our gear now is just unthinkable.”

One question I had for Gilly, and one I’d been wondering about for a while, was about the cost of the uniforms. I was aware hockey is arguably the most expensive sport to play, but I wanted to put a number on it. From head to toe, “each guy is probably around $2,000. Goalies are more. Their facemasks alone are $2,000.” So here’s some simple math:

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Chad Katunar’s helmet and facemask. A goaltender facemask costs a hefty $2,000.

26 players on the team: 3 goalies (at approximately $5,000 a piece), 23 skaters (at approximately $2,000 a piece)

23 x $2,000 = $46,000

3 x $5,000 = $15,000

Add it all up, and the Notre Dame hockey uniforms cost around an initial $61,000. *jaw drop*

Since I caught him on a game day, Gilly was particularly busy. His day consisted of laundry (which he does for both teams: “We are one of the few sports in the NCAA that does laundry for the visiting team.”), setting up the locker room, sharpening skates, getting the team meal ready, and various tasks in between. As soon as he welcomed me, he had to get back to work, so I stood back and let him do what he does while I observed, asked, and listened.

We then headed to the locker room, which, between facility tours and coaches and players coming in and out, sees a lot of traffic on game days. Gilly got to work placing the towels, the socks, and then finally hanging the jerseys. When I offered to help, he just said, “No, that’s okay. I’ve got my own superstitions, you know?” I stood reverently with my hands in my pockets—looking, not touching—afraid to upset the tranquility in the pristine room of gold, blue, oak, and mahogany. After the jerseys were up, the next task was to polish and touch-up the helmets.

The gold helmets premiered a year ago at the Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago. Most people seem to either love the helmets or adore them. A short two weeks before the game in Chicago was when the gold helmets were first proposed. “Mr. Swarbrick wanted to do that,” Gilly explained. “He felt like it was a brand opportunity that we were missing. He made that decision to look into it and see if that was feasible. The company that does it had never done hockey helmets before, so that was new for them, but they’ve been doing pretty well. I think they’re awesome.”

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Most of the equipment has “Irish” somewhere on it. The goaltenders make it eve more personal with their names (as shown on Summerhays’ leg pad).

At about 12:20, Gilly finished up in the locker room, and started collecting skates to sharpen them. He gathered the skates by how the players like their skates sharpened–which means, yes, he has 26 players’ skate preferences memorized. With only 10 minutes left in my hour, I knew I wouldn’t get to see the skates sharpened because each skate takes a reported 2.5 minutes. That means each pair takes 5 minutes, and to sharpen 20 pairs of skates for the 20 players suiting up for the game, Gilly spends nearly 2 hours at the skate-sharpener.

Between games, Gilly is planning for next season, which includes modifying the current jerseys and designing a brand new jersey (I’ll leave the details to your imagination for now.). But during the off-season, Gilly is just as busy. “I’ll go through and inventory everything. Then I’ll bring in equipment reps to fit the guys, so we can get our orders in. They usually have to be in by May 1, so we’ll get those in right away, and then our hockey school starts. I do our team travel, too, so I’ll get flights booked, busses reserved. I usually try to get all the travel stuff and ordering done before hockey school starts, because that sort of takes over your life. Once that’s over, usually by the middle of July, I’ll take three weeks and just spend some time at home.”

From every skate to every glove, and every stick to every puck, Gilly oversees the vast array of equipment that comes with Notre Dame hockey. He says his job is “nothing glamorous,” but glamorous is not the same thing as crucial, impressive, or even interesting. Someone told me, “If you shadowed Gilly for an hour, you probably only saw 1/24th of what he does.” That’s probably true.

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