While watching a hockey game you usually don’t hear much about the team’s equipment manager.
That’s because their role as a behind-the-scenes professional who may not have much time in the spotlight, but plays a vital part of any hockey team. In fact, the equipment manager is one of the most important members of the team, as he keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes as the players focus on the game at hand. He might not be making headlines after every victory, but you can almost guarantee that he played a large role in the success of the team thanks to his preparation and dedication.
The Saginaw Spirit hockey team is lucky to have one of the top equipment managers in the business – Lester Tiu – who has an extensive background in the sport of hockey.
The 42-year-old Tiu, who is of Filipino descent, knew very little about the sport of hockey until his immigrant parents moved to Bramton, Ontario, Canada, which is about 35 miles from Toronto.
“I didn’t get into hockey until high school,” said Tiu. “Once my family moved to southern Ontario I was hooked. After high school Tiu received a Bachelor of Arts degree from York University in Toronto where he majored in Economics and Statistical Mathematics. “After university, I really wanted to stay in hockey in some fashion.”
In 2002, he became the Founding Member and Product Reviewer for ModSquadHockey.com (formerly CoreBeam.net), a website featuring the latest and greatest options for all hockey equipment. But Tiu’s expertise in hockey equipment didn’t stop there.
From 2007-2013 he was an assistant store manager for Hockey Experts where he worked as a Sales Floor Director and Keyholder while also holding the title of Director of Team Sales and Special Product Orders. Additionally, Tiu was the New-Hire Trainer and Product Knowledge Advisor. In 2013-14, he worked as the Department Sales Manager for Sport Chek where he managed the recruitment and development of department personnel.
Beginning in 2017, he was sales manager/development consultant for HockeyStickMan, helping the organization doubling the previous year’s sales revenue on each side of the border in his first year on the job. In 2021, he travelled across 28 states, acquiring over $850,000 of inventory.
Tiu received his first break in professional hockey when he worked for the Toronto Furies/Vaughan Flames (CWHL) as Equipment Manager from 2009-2011. From 2012-14, he was Equipment Manager for Pro Hockey Development Group (OWHA) where one of his duties was to manage uniform creation and distribution. At the same time, he was the Assistant Equipment Manager for the Mississauga Steelheads (OHL).
In 2014, he continued his rise in the hockey world where he worked as Equipment Manager for the U15 Program of Excellence (OHL) where he assisted camp supply setup and distribution, ensured game-day supply standards compliance, provided staff support throughout games and practices, and directed players to orientation/itinerary.
From 2014-17, Tiu was Head Equipment Manager for the Sarnia Sting, before having another two-year stint with Mississauga. Spirit General Manager Dave Drinkill hired Tiu in 2018 where he performed a number of duties during his four-year tenure as Equipment Manager – including budgeting equipment and supply inventory orders and structured monthly expenditure budgets.
“The ordering (of equipment) for next year starts now,” explained Tiu. “You really have to forecast and keep looking ahead. I need to predict what we’ll need in terms of helmets, gloves, pads and jerseys for players who aren’t even on the roster yet. You try your best and just try to make an educated guess.”
“If you don’t book your equipment now for next season, you won’t have your stuff until around Christmas.”
Tiu had stints with the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League as Training Camp Assistant from 2021-22, before working in the same position with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (2021-23).
Now, he’s back in Saginaw for the second time and management hopes he’ll stay around awhile.
“People don’t know how valuable he is to our program,” said Craig Goslin, president and managing partner of the Spirit. “He’s an important part of our organization and our players just love him.”
For a 7 p.m. home game, Tiu arrives at the Dow Event Center around 8 a.m. On a typical day, he will have the team’s practice jerseys ready for the morning skate (10-11 a.m.). The visiting team has their morning skate from 11-Noon.
“Around 2 p.m. I’ll have about a half an hour or so to sneak out and grab a sandwich and I’m back (at the Dow) before 3 p.m.,” said Tiu. “There’s a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time.”
“Along with myself, Assistant Equipment Managers Jordan Schneider and Aden Gohm tend to players needs,” he continued. “Those two guys just love hockey. I honestly couldn’t do it without those guys.” They will organize the player’s gear and often perform maintenance on it when needed. This includes sharpening skates, breaking in sticks, and cleaning pads, jerseys, and gloves. If a piece of equipment has been through the ringer and no longer looks to be functional, the manager is responsible for ordering a new piece and making sure it is prepared in a timely manner.
Tiu said the most important equipment the Saginaw Spirit has is an in-house industrial washer and dryer, 35 and 40 pounds, respectively. When the team takes to the ice for its pre-game skate at 6:45 p.m. they are wearing practice jerseys. When they come back into the locker room to change into game-day gear, Tiu and his staff get busy laundering.
“There’s no sense waiting,” he explained. “By the time I come off the ice during the first intermission, the jerseys are done (drying) and already hung in the players stalls.”
“This year we have redesigned jerseys, which are much thinner. We will launder all 21 jerseys and socks all in one load. Then we’ll do another load with pants and undergarments. After that’s done, we’ll wash and dry all the towels.”
From a day that began at 8 a.m., Tiu and company will leave the rink between 11:30-midnight. For away games at the Junior Hockey level the players actually load the equipment trunks onto the bus. Tiu, however, has to keep track of every piece.
“We stage everything for them,” explained Tiu. “The staging takes about an hour to pack with player’s equipment bags, hockey, medical and video equipment, along with sticks and water bottles, and lining up the trunks. Overall, it takes about 30-40 minutes to load the trunks onto the bus.”
Tiu said that the Spirit will start the season with 35-40 jerseys and will sometimes add between 10-15 to cover player transactions; each with the player’s last name emblazoned on the back. The team will have “blank” jerseys for emergencies. Prior to the season each player receives a garment bag with both on-ice and off-ice team gear, including gym shorts, tee-shirts, track suits, polo shirts, hoodie, tennis shoes and sandals. During games, Tiu is at the far end of the bench near a row of extra hockey sticks. He’s at the ready if a player needs a new stick, towel, or if they are having issues with their skates.
Occasionally he has an errant puck, stick or even a player whose been checked, enter the bench area. “I’m actually in a corner,” said Tiu. “I like to give the coaches the room they need but occasionally I’ll have to dart in front of them to attend to a player’s needs. If a puck or stick hits me, it’s going to hit me. I always have minor bumps and bruises, but nothing terrible. I constantly have small cuts on my hand that I can’t account for.”
Keeping skates sharp is one of the most important jobs he performs. Edges are done every day but contrary to popular belief, skates actually do not need to be sharpened on a daily basis. Tiu shapes the skate blade from toe to heel, taking care of high spots (or burrs). Tiu explained that there’s a lot of trauma to the skate blades during the game, which are hit by pucks, sticks and even opponents’ skates.
“I’m rolling two sets of steel (on the skate sharpening stone wheel), and possibly a third,” he explained. “During a recent game I had to do three sets of blade replacements, which took the entire intermission.”
“I managed hockey shops from 2007-2014 so that way the start of a ton of invaluable experience sharpening skates and rivets/repairs,” said Tiu. “It was in 2012 when I start working under Frates at the Steelheads and really immersed in the team side of things.”
Additionally, a good equipment manager knows the needs of every player and can recite their favorite gear by heart. The players have much respect for the equipment managers, and that is because they know how to find the right equipment and fine-tune it to their needs. Equipment managers are in constant communication with the players about their sticks, skates, pads, helmets, and anything else that might need changing.
“In year’s past I’ve had the nightmare player who would request special socks,” said Tiu. ‘This year’s (Spirit) players are very professional, very organized. This group has been tremendous to work with.”
16th November, 2023