Broken sticks and lots of laundry: what it takes to keep the Birmingham Bulls on the ice

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Seth Allen, Birmingham Bulls

By Andrew Gelderman/Reflect Alabama Fellow

Players race across the ice, fans shout from the stands and the horn blares as the hockey puck finds the back of the net. The Birmingham Bulls brand of hockey is nonstop action from start to finish. However, preparations for the game start long before the players step foot on the ice.

Ray Pack has been the Birmingham Bulls equipment manager for seven years. He operates behind the scenes making sure home and away teams have everything they need. But his love for the sport started much earlier.

He started playing hockey at the age of five, skating all the way through high school. Eventually he started working for the Bulls helping out with equipment. However, his hockey experience paused when the team left in 2001. But in 2017, the Bulls made their return to the area, and Pack quickly jumped back on board as the team’s new equipment manager.

“I guess you could say it was fate that the hockey team came back here,” Pack said, “I knew the coach at the time, so I got to go back and work for him.”

Pack now works for the team during the Bulls’ October through April season. On home game weekends, he makes sure players have what they need, from before the puck is dropped to the final buzzer. But preparing for a game is no simple task. He begins early, around 6 a.m. Friday morning, before anyone else arrives. Because he lives about an hour away from the complex, he usually stays and sleeps on site and doesn’t leave until about 10 p.m. Saturday.

When he arrives early Friday, he gets right to work. He’s in charge of making sure everything from sticks to skates are ready to go before every home game.

Pack starts with the laundry, multiple loads. He stuffs carts with dirty game jerseys, practice jerseys, socks, even gloves, and hauls them to the washers. Once clean, he puts the jerseys in the dryer, which just happen to be all the way across the arena. With the laundry underway, he’ll then take a cart of supplies, including things like hockey tape and loads of chewing gum to the locker rooms. Apparently, hockey players chew a large amount of gum.

Pack’s work doesn’t stop when the game begins. He stands at the ready, behind the bench. 

“I’m watching the game. But you know my main thing is if a guy breaks a stick on the ice, I gotta jump over, grab his stick and have it ready for him to come by the bench and grab it.” Pack said, looking out over the ice, “I’m watching to see if I need to do something.”

Pack handles obstacles that come his way throughout the game. Broken sticks or dull skates don’t slow him down. He runs off to fix the problem, then runs back, getting the players back on the ice.

When the action is finished and fans begin to head home Pack stays behind.

“Once the game is over, then a lot of my work begins again.” 

Pack sets about doing laundry from the night’s game and preparing the locker rooms, before he is finally done for the day. 

“I’ll usually tidy up and take a nap on the medical table till next morning, till like 7:30,” Pack explained. “And then we’ll go through the whole process again tomorrow.”

Pack admits it’s tough work. Running back and forth on any given weekend, he could easily hit 45,000 steps.

“I guess you have to have the passion for it, because you don’t get paid for the hours you work,” Pack said. “But, you know, it’s fun. It’s enjoyable.”

One thing is certain, the Bulls wouldn’t be the same, without Ray Pack working behind the scenes.

 

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