When people ask what I miss most about no longer managing in the NHL I immediately answer, “the people.” I don’t mean just the players, coaches and staff, although that goes without saying. Being together with the team, going out for dinner on the road with the coaching staff and visiting with the trainers and equipment managers on a regular basis are all things that make the GM’s job enjoyable.
The people I am referring to are the ones who become part of our home away from home during the season. The behind-the-scenes people we come in contact with throughout the grind of a long year who make it fun to be on the road. With the Lightning making a mid-Atlantic swing, it got me thinking about some of those friendly folks who never make the boxscores or have their pictures on TV or the Jumbotron, but are so important to us.
During my time in Tampa one of those special people was Bonnie Mcabe, our flight concierge with Miami Air, our charter company. Bonnie would make sure we all made it through security and that her in-flight crew was ready to see to our every need once we boarded the plane. She would then fly with us, repeating the same scene wherever we traveled. Depending on the wins and losses our moods constantly changed; however Bonnie always had a smile on her face and a kind word on her lips.
A trip such as the one the Lightning are currently making, would have seen us land in Newark (before last Wednesday’s game against the Devils) where we would have been greeted with smiles, handshakes, hugs and enough wise cracks to last the trip by bus driver extraordinaire Ricky Berlingo of County Coach and the Jack Rabbit Lines, and his colleague, Jon Kucera. A box of Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut holes would have been waiting for coach John Tortorella, a ritual dating back to Tortorella’s days coaching with the Rangers. Spending time with Ricky was like catching up with an old friend you only saw two or three times a year.
Philadelphia to Washington meant a chance to visit briefly in Philly with Bob Breslin, a friend of Bill Barber’s and the Amtrak rep who arranged our train travel. One of the most enjoyable ways to travel for us was by train and Bob made it a worry-free process; literally walking us right onto the train at Penn Station and having someone on hand to greet us when we arrived at Union Station in D.C.
Arriving at the arena in D.C. gave us a chance to visit with James Wiseman, the Caps’ veteran security representative who was always the first to greet us upon entering the building. A true gentleman and a real professional, we always felt welcome with James and he made sure we knew where to find him during our stay. James’ job was not finished until the team bus safely exited the building and hit the streets of the nation’s Capital, and we knew we could count on him for that.
There are many more names I would love to share with you, but unfortunately space will not allow for it. These are just some of the special unsung heroes who make it enjoyable to travel in the NHL. For me, they are some of the people I miss most now that I am no longer managing. The chance to be reunited with these hard-working hockey brethren is just another reason why I want to manage again.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.