The move was a tough transition personally, but professionally it was well worth it. I mean, who wouldn’t want this job? Working with pro athletes, hobnobbing with celebrities, selling something I had used all my life as a hockey player (and something that didn’t have a “symptoms may include” rap-sheet as long as a book). Hell, this job was statistically harder to get than making it into the NHL. After all, there were only four equipment companies with NHL contracts and each had about five reps: that’s less spots than one NHL team’s roster.
I was hired partially because I knew Ned, mostly because of my solid sales background in the medical field, but maybe more importantly, because I wasn’t a “jock-sniffer.”
Being an ex-Junior hockey player myself, on the same track at one time as these guys that had made it, I wasn’t in awe of them or wanting their autographs or sniffing any jocks. I had my own, albeit short-lived, highlights: living in Calgary when I was an up-and-comer with the family of Hall-of-Fame general manager, Cliff Fletcher, and son Chuck, now the Minnesota Wild GM; discussing my Junior hockey career with Wayne Gretzky; sitting next to Gordie Howe at an NHL All-Star game; having Scottie Bowman watch me practice; being invited to an Olympic Training Camp in Lake Placid as a 16-year-old, and having a day in my city that year named in my honor because of it.
Still, it was a little unnerving when I got that first call from a player. The caller ID was blocked, so I didn’t pick up: “Kirk, this is Pascal Dupuis, I hear you’re my new rep. I’ve got an issue with my skates. Give me a call.” Dupuis was with the Atlanta Thrashers at the time, and one of Easton’s catalog guys. Easton only put a handful of guys on contract; meaning they would get paid a fee between say 50-150k to do promos for Easton, like appear in the catalog, and remain faithful to the brand.
So I rang him right back. “Pascal, this is Kirk with Easton.” “Kirky, thanks for returning my call.” (Everyone in hockey gets some kind of nickname, usually by just adding a ‘y’.) “Listen, these skates are breaking down real fast in the mid-lace area. Any ideas?” “Uh, let me check into it and get back to you,” I said. Being new, I really wasn’t sure what to say. I mean, back at Easton corporate, these guys talked it up like they had the best product on the market.
I called the factory for some answers and got a swearing French Canadian. “Putain, ‘zese guys want ‘ze lightest stuff, ‘zen complain when she break!” He’d obviously heard this before. “So, what should we do?” I asked. “E want more pair, I make ‘im more pair. Tell ‘ze equipment managere for now, glue ‘ze panels ‘zat come apart. Sacre bleu!”
When I told Dupuis’ equipment manager about the skates, he cussed and complained. “I used to be able to salvage a pair of skates by stitching the leather panels together. With this carbon crap, I can’t even make a proper hole to stitch through.” “Yeah, but that’s what makes these so light and safe—you take a puck or stick to the ankle with these skates, and you’re probably not on injured reserve,” I answered, thinking I was learning the spin pretty fast. “Don’t even fucking go there,” said the equipment manager.
The equipment managers were a bit of a motley crew. There was the head guy, who often had a chip on his shoulder and his assistant, who often had a bigger chip, and a third who was either too new and eager, or too old and bitter.
The equipment managers worked hard and had a tough job that was somewhat thankless. They worked practically 24/7 during the hockey season, and traveled with the team. They dealt with everything from keeping the locker room ventilated enough that it didn’t smell like my old hockey bag times thirty, to ordering head-to-toe gear for the entire team (and often securing stuff for the team’s kids and relatives on the side). The player’s relied on them to have everything they used in practices and games ready and working. In a sense, they were the gatekeepers and I had to get along with them whether I liked it or not.
Cussing and ribbing and nudity were all a part of this job. Not my own nudity– that would be weird– but much of the job was done in locker rooms before or after practice. Coming from pharma sales, the only nudity I witnessed was on the dummy they used to teach us what parts of the body were affected by the drugs we were selling (pretty much all parts, if you read the fine print). In the pharmaceutical world, we were so controlled we couldn’t even take a doctor to lunch unless it was for an educational seminar with food as an afterthought. Sharing hotel rooms was not only not done, but against company policy. And you had to be real careful what you said around other employees, especially of the opposite sex, for fear of a CEC: Career Ending Comment. Oh, and in the pharmaceutical world there were more acronyms used than at acronym convention.
The only acronym I came across regularly in the NHL, besides ‘NHL’, was NFG, which the equipment managers would write on the sides of sticks that were broken, or not wanted due to any sort of excuse, real or imagined. It took me a minute, but I realized it stood for “No Fucking Good.”
NSFW, on the other hand, was definitely not in the pro hockey lexicon.