Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Meet Kacee Coberly - Equipment Manager Extraordinaire

Equipment manager Kacee Coberly has many roles on the team
There aren't many jobs in professional hockey less glamorous and yet more important than that of an equipment manager. I first met Allen Americans equipment manager, Kacee Coberly, last spring when I sat down with him to talk about the roles and responsibilities of an equipment manager. Since that time I have had many conversations with Kacee about hockey, his job and his family. Now that the new season is underway and fans are focusing on hockey again I thought it would be a good time to tell the story of this young, experienced and driven equipment manager. Kacee might be young (he is 26) but he already has 16 years of experience working in an equipment room. That's right, he started as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Blazers when he was ten. Kacee's baseball coach worked for the Blazers and asked if he wanted to go to a hockey game and help out and that is how it all started. He quickly became a rink rat and helped out in anyway he could. If he had a day off from school he would spend the entire day at the rink. He progressed to helping out in the visitors locker room and would even go along on road trips. His mom would check him out of school early on Friday and he would go with the team to Tulsa or Wichita. The equipment manager for the Blazers was a guy named Brandon Rose who took Kacee under his wing and taught him everything he knows. He has been a mentor for Kacee for a long time.

After graduating from high school Kacee went to a small college in west Texas (Howard College) to play baseball (left handed pitcher). But his mom was battling some health problems as well as paying for some of his bills and he didn't feel that was right so he called his friend (Brandon Rose) who helped him get his first full time equipment manager job with the Memphis River Kings (CHL). He was 18 years old at the time. He was with the River Kings for a year (2006-2007) and then went to work for former Americans associate coach Bill McDonald who was the head coach of the Dayton Bombers (ECHL) for a year (2007-2008). The following year (2008-2009) Kacee had the opportunity to go to work for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League who had just won the Memorial Cup the year before. It was a great opportunity to work for a successful hockey operation. Kacee got to work with many players that have gone on to successful careers in the AHL and NHL. After Kacee's third year in Spokane he got a call from Bill McDonald who was working for the Allen Americans. McDonald recruited Kacee hard telling him Allen was a excellent  place to live and the organization was outstanding to work for.  While he had a great situation in Spokane, Kacee and his wife Roxanne, liked the idea of being closer to home so for the 2011-2012 season he accepted the position as the equipment manager for the Allen Americans.

There have been three things that really struck me about Kacee in all of the conversations we have had over the last year. First, is how he has been preparing for what he does almost all of his life. To start doing something as a ten year old that turns out to be you life's work is remarkable. Kacee says he is still learning but he also says there are many parts of his job you can only learn by doing and he has done it all. The second thing that struck me is how many different duties he has that we as fans do not see. I came up with a list of job titles that could apply to Kacee. He might disagree as this is my list not his.

Budget Analyst - Kacee prepares a budget each year for management approval and after it is approved he tracks all line items to make sure he is staying within budget. He can tell you how many pucks have been used, how many sticks each player has used, whether he has had to replace their pant shells, who has requested custom blades for their skates, and the exact dates players qualify for equipment based on the collective bargaining agreement. So when players start throwing pucks into the crowd willy nilly Kacee sees $5 bills coming out of his budget. He wouldn't tell me what his annual equipment budget is but I would estimate it is close to $100,000.

Leathersmith - As players wear holes in the hands of their gloves or have problems with the boots on their skates it is Kacee to the rescue patching, gluing, pounding, and stretching, or replacing eyelets as necessary.

Tailor/seamstress - On of the most prominent pieces of equipment Kacee has in the equipment room is a sewing machine. Hole in your socks, tear in your jersey, ripped your pant shell, or a new player needs a name on their jersey last minute? Kacee to the rescue.

Janitor - We all see Kacee cleaning up the the players bench after practice or a game but that is nothing to keeping the locker room cleaned up. Twenty players with their smelly equipment takes a lot of upkeep. Vacuum, clean, organize and disinfect is a never ending process.

Buyer - A job Kacee takes very seriously is his relationship with all of the vendors he uses to get equipment. Whether it is jerseys, sticks or skates, he manages this relationship to get the best product at the lowest cost. He strikes me as a tough negotiator. If the number of stick blades that are breaking is unusually high the rep gets a call for free replacements and if the vendor makes a mistake on a jersey order or ships late Kacee expects an adjustment to his cost.

Salesman - Kacee gets the best price on equipment if he has all the players using the same brand of sticks or the same brand of skates. This is not a requirement but it holds cost down if he can get most if not all of the players using the same. He has been very successful is getting the players to go along with his recommendation. He also sells some of his extra stuff such has warmups and game used equipment in the team store to offset his costs.

Laundryman - You think you have a lot of laundry, try to keep up with Kacee's workload. On a normal practice day he will have four loads of laundry but on game days when both teams practice in the morning he also has to do laundry for the visiting team. Anywhere from 8 -10 loads on these days.

Confidant/Psychologist - Kacee describes his office and equipment room more like a barbershop. He has a unique position that can prove useful to both the players and the coaches. He does a lot of listening and being a team player he will try and be helpful in anyway he can.

Skate Sharpener - On a practice day the players write their name on a board if they want their skates sharpened. But on a game day he sharpens all the skates. There is a lot of pride in this skill and a lot of different preferences by players on how they want their skates sharpened.

Stickman - Kacee keeps four different kinds of shafts and a dozen different blades in the equipment room. The team uses Easton sticks. Retail price of the sticks would be close to $200. When I said to Kacee the stick budget must be high he said, "You could buy a nice new car for what I spend on sticks each year."  Kacee prepares all new sticks so he can keep an accurate inventory. Unless it is between periods of a game he will leave the knobs for the players to do. Each player gets three sticks and they are then replaced as they break. You will see Kacee before a game bring out the sticks and put them in numerical order on the bench. He takes great pride in how quickly he can get a replacement stick for a player on the ice after they have broken one. And if you watch carefully at the end of the period you might see Kacee head over to the penalty box to retrieve broken sticks so he can see where they broke and enter it in his inventory spreadsheet. They are two piece sticks so if the shaft breaks he can salvage the blade and save a few bucks.

The third thing that has struck me about Kacee is what sets him apart as an equipment manager and that is his passion for his job and dedication to doing the best he can to make the team successful. Kacee refers to this passion as his "OCD" which is his way of saying he is excessively meticulous, a perfectionist who is a stickler for order and detail. There is no better way to demonstrate this than ask some of the people he works with so that is what I did:

Darryl Bootland: "I would call him a perfectionist. There are not many equipment managers in the league that are the first guys at the rink and the last to leave. I've tried to get a ride from him to the Allen Event Center a couple of times in the morning but he leaves at 6:00 am so I don't get too many rides. He is here all summer, he works hard and is excellent at what he does. I have had a lot of equipment managers is my career and he does everything well and on top of all of that he is a great guy."

Tommy Daniels: "I have never met a more organized person in my entire life than Kacee. His locker room is immaculate if I can use those words in hockey terms. He is a perfectionist and one of the top young equipment managers in the game."

Mike Berube: "The most important thing is he works hard. In this league you are on a limited budget but he does whatever he can to get the players what they need. He is one of the equipment  managers who knows everyone on the team and exactly what their preferences are for sticks, how they like their skates sharpened and everything else. His attention to detail is what sets him apart."

Team President Matt Canavan: "Kacee is the most fiscally sound and budget savvy equipment manger I have worked with in 17 years in the business. He is a pleasure to work with."

Jamie Schaafsma: "Kacee takes his job very seriously and is a true professional.  A real perfectionist, he will do whatever it takes to help the players. He is very quick at getting sticks to us from the bench. He is the first guy in the locker room in the morning and the last guy to leave at night. He makes sure we have what we need to play our best. He keeps us on schedule and keeps us in line. He is the go to guy for many different things. Its great to have him around as his personality is appreciated and he is a lot of fun too."

Steve Martinson:  "Kacee is a great equipment manager. He will definitely by moving up. I don't know when but it will happen. Just like with our young players our goal is to have guys like Kacee move to the next level."

Here are a few questions I asked Kacee about his job:

 How do you assign numbers?
 It varies, if you are a young guy coming in we might look up the numbers you have worn in the past and try to get close to an old number but many times the young guys get assigned the numbers on the extra jerseys we have in stock. The young guys don't say much about numbers as they are just happy to be in Allen. If we are bringing in a veteran we try to accommodate them the best we can.

How do you deal with the smell of all the sweaty equipment and clothes?
It really doesn't bother me as I don't notice it. We are constantly cleaning and washing everything and we use an external company called Sani Sport that comes out periodically and puts all of the equipment in a trailer and cleans, disinfects and sanitizes it. They come in and clean the facility as well.

Most disgusting injury you have seen?
When I was in Oklahoma I saw a guy get hit in the face with a puck and his top lip was hanging down lower than his lower lip. That was pretty gruesome.

What is the best practical joke you can think of?
When I was in Spokane I had one of the older guys come and ask if they could borrow my sewing machine. Wasn't sure what they were up to but they sewed the legs shut on one of the young guys jeans so when he went to get dressed he couldn't get his jeans on. That was a good one for sure.

What is the hardest part of your job?
Trying to keep all the players on the team happy by accommodating all of their needs.

What do you have to pack when you go on the road?
Two bags of laundry, two sets of uniforms (game & practice), extra gear bag, extra bag for the goalie, a big trunk. a skate sharpener, a trunk for extra blades and other equipment, 20 player bags, glove dryer, four trunks for the athletic trainer with his stuff, a stationary bike, three sticks for each player plus a dozen extra blades and and a dozen extra shafts.

What was it like for you to win the championship last year?
It was an unbelievable experience winning the championship the way we did in overtime of the seventh game. The boys did a great job of battling back for the victory. You work so hard all year to win the last game and get a ring. We did win a championship in Oklahoma City when I was a stick boy but it was way better this time being the head guy and getting a ring. I didn't get a ring in Oklahoma City.

Kacee & Roxanne With Addison and Noah

Life away from the rink for Kacee revolves around his family. He is married and has two children. He met his wife, Roxanne, back in his home town in Oklahoma. They went to the same school even though she is younger and she was a friend of the family. They have two children. Addison is four and a half and Noah is seven months. Kacee describes Roxanne as unbelievable, "She is the glue in the family and she holds everything together." Transitioning to the lifestyle of an equipment manager was a little difficult for Roxanne when they first lived together in Spokane. Long days at the rink and road trips can be difficult. As Kacee put it, "It was hard for her to understand that there is so much work that you can get to the rink at 6:45 am and not get home until midnight.

Addison loves coming to the hockey games and visiting dad at work on non-game days. She gets to run around the rink and watch cartoons like Dora on his computer.  For games his family sits close to the door where the team goes on and off the ice because Addison likes to give Kacee a hug and kiss as he comes off the ice. Kacee said, "She used to like to work me over for some bubble gum as I was leaving the ice but she almost choked on the gum so Roxanne put the kibosh on that." Addison is definitely a daddy's girl.

The pet in the house is a Yellow Lab/ Golden Retriever mix named Janie who is great with the kids. Janie holds a special place for Roxanne as when she first moved to Spokane to be with Kacee it was her first time living away from home. The were living in the players apartments and Roxanne became best friends with a neighbor. Her friend passed away from brain cancer and Janie was her friends dog. Needless to say Janie is a special member of the Coberly family.

When Kacee does get time away from the rink activities center around the family. Addison likes going to Top Golf so they visit there and will stop by the dog park in Allen Square with Janie. Otherwise, lots of time playing with the kids at home. Noah is in the crawling stage so lots of time spent on the floor playing with him. Kacee has a pair of red sneakers and Noah loves going after them as soon as Kacee takes them off.

Here are some questions to get to know Kacee away from the rink:

Favorite Actor: Will Ferrell

Favorite Type Of Music: Country

Favorite Singer or Group: Zac Brown Band

Where Is The Most Interesting Place You Have Visited: When I was in Dayton we took the train into New York City and and it dropped us off under Madison Square Garden. We got to tour the city for a day.

If You Could Live In Another Country For Two Years Where Would You Live: Switzerland

If You Weren't Working As An Equipment Manager What Would You Do: Sports Management

What Do You Like To Do To Kill Time On The Bus: Sleep

Favorite Childhood Toy: Micro Machines

IF You Could Choose Someone As A Mentor Who Would It Be: Brandon Rose who I learned a lot from growing up and Adam Pineault, for all of the adversity he has faced and the positive outlook on life he has everyday.

Favorite TV Show: Duck Dynasty. Addison and I watch it together.

What Is Your Favorite Food: Steak and shrimp.

Favorite Motto or Saying: Once you get comfortable then you start getting yourself in trouble.

As fans we always think about players making it to the NHL such as Jordie Benn did after playing for the Americans. Kacee Coberly has the talent, the drive, the skill,  the experience and the personality to make it to the big show. It will be fun to watch his career progress. If you get the chance say hi to Kacee and thank him for all of his hard work. My prediction is he will soon be in the American Hockey League. 

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