By Mike Mastovich
PITTSBURGH – After playing 1,269 games in 18 NHL seasons, Mark Recchi recognizes a quality locker room when he sees one.
The Pittsburgh Penguins forward appreciates the transformation of the home locker room and team facilities at Mellon Arena this year.
Much of the credit for the upgrade belongs to Johnstown native Dana Heinze, who was named the team’s head equipment manager less than a month before training camp opened.
“Dana’s been wonderful,” Recchi said. “He’s made all the guys in here feel very comfortable. Whatever you need, goes. He’s got an unbelievable work ethic.
“Guys just have to focus on playing. That makes everything easy.”
Heinze got his start with the Johnstown Chiefs – twice.
The Westmont Hilltop graduate was the Chiefs trainer from 1988-92 before spending a season with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
Heinze returned to Johnstown from 1995-98, then used his experience to eventually land in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning as assistant equipment manager for six seasons.
Some of the amenities in the new Pens’ locker room are very similar to those Heinze and current Lightning assistant equipment manager Mic Midderhoff incorporated in Johnstown and later, Tampa Bay.
There are spacious shelving units built above the players’ lockers. Detailed name plates identify lockers and sticks are neatly hung across the wall of an adjacent hallway.
Penguins logos and signs with motivational messages hang throughout the room and the lounge area.
“He’s made good changes,” third-year Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “It’s been awesome. Everything we need is always there. He’s always willing to help us out.”
The new look figuratively happened overnight in the scheme of an 82-game hockey season thanks to Heinze and his assistant, Paul DeFazio.
After being part of a Stanley Cup championship team as assistant equipment manager in Tampa two seasons ago, Heinze made a difficult decision to leave the Lightning and move closer to home when the Penguins position opened.
The Pens named Heinze to the head job. In an appropriate twist, Midderhoff, who spent 18 seasons with the Chiefs, replaced Heinze as an assistant in Tampa Bay, making his NHL debut at age 59.
“I was hired three weeks before rookie camp,” Heinze said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “The biggest challenge was coming into a new situation. Being in Tampa for six years, we had everything set the way we liked it. Here, it was completely different. Having three weeks to change all that was difficult.”
Some of the upgrades were major, such as the addition of a state-of-the-art skate sharpener, a rivet machine and literally dozens of plastic and metal bins of all shapes and sizes to organize equipment.
“It’s amazing what a logo, a sign or a coat of paint will do,” Heinze said. “Keeping things organized and doing the little things for the guys makes a huge difference. The guys enjoy being at the rink and at the locker room. They don’t have to worry about all the distractions. They can go out on the ice and play.”