By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – He may only be 25, but Jason MacDonald has the look of a salty equipment manager for a professional hockey team.
MacDonald’s Detroit roots are partly to blame, but his road to Southwest Florida as the new equipment manager for the Florida Everblades was anything but smooth. And it’s those experiences that have allowed him to command a certain respect from the players, young and old.
“People always say we’re the hardest working people in hockey, and I guess that’s true,” says MacDonald, who experienced winning a championship with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves in 2002-03. “But if you don’t love the game you can’t do this job. I absolutely love the game of hockey. I’ve played all my life and I was always one of those quirky kids who was always fixing his stuff, always rigging something.”
MacDonald got his first break courtesy of a good friend of his, David Moss, who now plays in the AHL with Omaha. MacDonald was working at a local hockey pro shop in 2002 when he went to St. Louis to visit Moss and watch him play against the USA Hockey All-Stars. There was nobody available to fix the players’ equipment or sharpen their skates, so MacDonald offered his services. Shortly after he returned home he got a call from the U.S. National Development Team in Ann Arbor, Mich.
In his second year with the 17- and 18-year-old All-Stars, the team captured a gold medal at the Under-17 World Championships in Winnipeg. Then MacDonald joined the Wolves as an assistant to the equipment manager. He stayed with the Wolves, the Triple-A affiliate of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers, through the end of the 2004-05 season.
Last year, MacDonald came upon some hard luck not once, but twice thanks to Mother Nature. He had signed on as the equipment manager for the ECHL’s Mississippi Sea Wolves and was supposed to move to Biloxi the weekend Hurricane Katrina made landfall, rendering the Sea Wolves obsolete for the year.
Running out of options, MacDonald contacted the Texas Wildcatters and verbally committed to them, but Hurricane Rita closed down their season, and when the Central Hockey League’s Fort Worth Brahmas came calling he had to jump.
“Last year Jason had his own show and went to an organization that maybe wasn’t as stable as other organizations, so he had to improvise a lot,” Everblades head coach Gerry Fleming says. “I think it was a great learning year for him. Coming here he has all the tools and equipment that he needs in order to make his job a lot easier, and he’s motivated about working here and we’re excited about having him. He’s done a good job so far.”
Fort Worth ceased operations at the end of the season, and MacDonald was back on the job hunt. He says the experience in Dallas/Fort Worth humbled him, but he has nothing but good things to say about how the organization treated him.
Victoria Salmon Kings head coach Tony MacAulay told MacDonald about the Everblades job, which became available after John Jennings retired over the summer, and he did a phone interview with Fleming followed by a sit-down interview with team president and general manager Craig Brush in Detroit. Brush was in town for his son’s wedding, liked what he saw and heard from MacDonald and offered him the job.
“The guy is the first one here and the last one to leave every day. He’s on top of his stuff,” says Everblades veteran forward Ernie Hartlieb, who also is from the Detroit area. “You don’t have to tell him. He knows what you like, when you like it, what kind of socks, how your skates need to be done, when they need to be done, and you don’t have to say nothing to him.”
MacDonald got to know Hartlieb and the other three veterans on the team, forwards Reggie Berg and Brent McDonald and defenseman and team captain Ryan Brindley, over the summer. He says that familiarity has helped him in the early part of the season because those four have acted as go-betweens with the new players until MacDonald feels comfortable with them.
Fleming says the importance of an equipment manager can’t be measured in the standings or on the stat sheet, but the good ones make it easier for the players to focus on what they need to do on the ice. He considers MacDonald one of the good ones, and MacDonald takes pride in being able to adapt to each player’s routine and stay on top of his responsibilities, which is why his goal is the same as theirs.
“I’m young, 25, and I’ve got quite a few years under my belt, and just like a player, this is a great place to be, but for me where I want to be is I want to work at the highest level of hockey,” MacDonald says. “Everyone’s goal should be to make it to the National Hockey League, and the training staff and the coaches are the same way — you have the same goals.
“I love to give my players an advantage. Any advantage that we can take to win a hockey game, I’m there. If I’ve got to stay up for three days doing stuff, I’ll do it.”
Sounds like a man beyond his years.