While the game is played on the ice, a lot of behind the scenes work goes into a hockey team’s success.
Tony Eden knows that better than anybody. This is his sixth season as the head trainer and equipment manager of the Dalhousie Tigers men’s hockey team; he has 36 years working in high performance hockey.
“My job is to facilitate and give the athletes every possible opportunity to be successful on the ice,” Eden says.
His tasks range from getting equipment at the beginning of the year and keeping it supplied throughout the season, to doing laundry, getting snacks and Gatorade for the players right before games, packing gear for road trips –– the list goes on.
To take care of the 25-player roster, Eden works with two trainers, kinesiology students Melanie Walker and Katherine Porter, as well as Chris McNeil, who helps with sharpening skates on game days.
The Tigers hosted the last home game of the season against the Saint Mary’s Huskies on Feb. 2. In preparation of the 7 p.m. start time, Eden goes to the rink at 4 p.m. –– this time he brings with him a birthday cake for forward, Kelly Bent, for after the game.
Before the players arrive, he has the dressing room set up, skates sharpened and ice buckets filled for any injuries. After that, he handles any issues as they come up – taping any injuries, doing last minute equipment repairs and making sure the referees have everything they need.
Eden takes backup sticks to the bench and gets Juicy Fruit gum for assistant coach Dean Dachyshyn.
“There’s no detail too small,” Eden says.
Just before the players head on the ice, he gives Jonathan Cyr a fist bump and a red Gatorade energy chew, a good luck tradition they’ve had for two years
Eden usually sees half the game. During the other half he’s getting the dressing room ready for the next period and fixing/retrieving equipment.
“Some days it’s crazy busy and other days you get to enjoy more of the game,” Eden says.
In the first period, he brings a broken stick to the equipment room; in
In the second period, Eden helps the trainers with player injuries. He goes on the ice with Walker when Cyr hits his back into the boards and makes sure he heads to the dressing room.
After watching the first few minutes of the third period, he heads to the dressing room to get out towels and shampoo for the players after the game.
He returns to the bench as McNeil runs a portable skate sharpener over Colton Heffley’s skates. Skate technology is one of the biggest changes Eden has seen in his time managing equipment. It used to be: when a player broke a blade they were out of the game. Now, a blade can be changed on the bench in less than a minute.
After a game, Eden will
The next day he goes back for four to five hours; vacuuming and cleaning the dressing room, repairing equipment, getting out practice jerseys and checking inventory. That evening, he’ll send a report to Head Coach Chris Donnelly, updating him about player injury statuses.
“If I look after the little things; Chris can focus on dealing with the athletes from a hockey performance point of view,” Eden says.
Although he manages equipment, Eden also spends a lot of time with the athletes, talking about hockey and life.
“I love being around the players –– sometimes you’re a counsellor for the players who just wanna chitchat because they had a bad game, sometimes you’re their mother giving them a hug and sometimes you’re dad who’s gotta set down the law a little bit,” he says.
What he finds hardest is seeing the players leave. This year, Colton Heffley, Mike Evelyn, Jesse Lussier, Jackson Playfair and Conner Donaghey are all graduating.
“It’s hard to see [them] go on, although it’s exciting,” Eden says. “It’s so much fun knowing that you can help play a role in a young person’s life. For the most part it’s just in a minor way, but I know how much they appreciate all we do.”