After the Wild finalized a postgame trade with the Golden Knights Jan. 21, the process to acclimate newly acquired defenseman Brad Hunt began before the team even left the airport in Las Vegas.
General Manager Paul Fenton relayed what number Hunt wanted to wear to head equipment manager Tony DaCosta after chatting with Hunt, and DaCosta e-mailed Exclusive Pro Sports, an Illinois-based company that customizes the Wild’s jerseys, to request a No. 77 sweater. He also called his counterpart with the Golden Knights to get Hunt’s specifications for his gear — all before the airplane took off for Denver.
Two days later, when Hunt showed up at Pepsi Center for his team debut against the Colorado Avalanche, a jersey was waiting for him.
“They try to make you feel at home,” Hunt said. “My experience here has been fantastic.”
With less than two weeks to go before the NHL trade deadline, the hockey world will be focused on the GMs orchestrating the deals and the players switching teams.
But these in-season transitions wouldn’t be possible without equipment staffs outfitting NHLers with what they need to represent their new squads, behind-the-scenes shuffling that’s essential to keeping the league operating on schedule.
“People don’t see the work they put in to make us happy,” Hunt said, “to make us be able to do what we do.”
Hunt is among four players the Wild has brought in so far this season, a spike in arrivals from what DaCosta has become accustomed to in the last handful of years.
And with more change possible, the staff is on alert but doesn’t need to change its preparation since it’s primed to handle roster turnover at any time.
“They’re ready for you, and they usually have answers to every question,” veteran Matt Hendricks said. “If they don’t, they’ll get it immediately.”
It’s easier to maneuver at home, but the Wild travels all season long with the essentials to welcome in someone new while on the road.
It has two extra bags, half a dozen pants in different sizes, a variety of gloves and blank jerseys along with name and number kits. Rarely, though, do assistant equipment managers Rick Bronwell and Matt Benz have to sew those details onto a player’s jersey.
Usually, the team can have a sweater mailed in from Exclusive Pro Sports on time — barring it’s not a weekend when shipping is difficult. The company has a batch of Wild jerseys already on hand and once it knows the number, it can expedite the production.
“I want to get their number right away … because I want to get that rolling as fast as I can,” DaCosta said.
Once a trade is completed, a player’s equipment rep will typically reach out to DaCosta to let him know preferences, but he also gets that insight from the player’s previous team since equipment managers share helmet and jersey sizes, skate measurements, whether a player needs more sticks ordered and what’s in his hockey bag.
“We do as much as we can without bugging the player,” DaCosta said.
Players keep their protective gear and once the staff opens their bags, it begins subbing out former team items — like T-shirts — for new ones.
Since most NHLers skate with customized equipment, they usually debut with stock sizes the team carries for gloves and pants until their individualized pieces arrive in team colors — typically in a week to 10 days.
“We just have to get you on the ice,” DaCosta said.
White helmets are reusable, but DaCosta doesn’t like putting shells over pants to cover up a former organization’s colors. And he doesn’t spray paint gloves.
The colors on goalie pads can be tweaked, and masks can be wrapped in a different theme.
“The equipment guys are the unsung heroes of the team,” Hunt said.
Aside from overseeing gear needs, the staff can also set the tone for a player’s introduction to the Wild — acting as an unofficial welcoming committee since DaCosta is among the first from the team to touch base with newbies.
“[If] your first impression when you meet the trainers is a really good one,” coach Bruce Boudreau said, “then you’re already comfortable.”
And making the adjustment as smooth as possible is the equipment staff’s objective.
“It’s tough to be traded,” DaCosta said. “So I’m pushing on the companies to go as fast you can because I want to look good for this player — that we’re taking care of him. It doesn’t matter who it is. That’s your job.”
• The Ducks will make their second and final regular-season visit to Xcel Energy Center next week, and they’ll have a different face behind the bench than the last time they were in St. Paul. After dismissing coach Randy Carlyle Sunday, General Manager Bob Murray announced that he would take over Carlyle’s duties — an unusual move for someone who’s never coached pro hockey but one that makes sense for a beleaguered Anaheim squad. Promoting Dallas Eakins from the American Hockey League could alter the chemistry of a team that’s doing well in the minors, and getting a front-row seat to the Ducks’ struggles could help Murray’s maneuvering as he searches for solutions for a team that’s had losing streaks of 12 and seven games.
• Boston will be without leading point-getter David Pastrnak for at least two weeks after he underwent surgery on his left thumb. But Pastrnak didn’t suffer the injury in a game or during practice. He was hurt falling while walking to his transportation after a sponsorship dinner Sunday, a tough accident as the Bruins attempt to hold onto the third seed in the Atlantic Division.
• Sharks center Joe Thornton rewrote the NHL record book Monday, surpassing Gordie Howe to rank ninth in league history in assists with 1,050. Thornton also logged his 1,541 regular-season game, moving by Shane Doan and Johnny Bucyk for 15th place and with 1,457 points, the 39-year-old tied Teemu Selanne for 15th in NHL history.
Sarah McLellan covers the Wild and NHL hockey for the Star Tribune.