Equipment man Barrie Stafford spent a lot of time with future Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Jari Kurri early in his career with the Edmonton Oilers. Today, Stafford took his place alongside the Boys on the Bus again.
Stafford, who spent 26 years sharpening skates, doling out sticks, patching up equipment and laying out jerseys for some of the greatest players ever to suit up in the NHL, has been added to the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society and the Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers Wall of Honor alongside his famous pals in the HHOF.
While Stafford’s ticket to the HHOF didn’t make headlines like the induction of Joe Sakic, Adam Oates, Pavel Bure and Mats Sundin did today, it’s a fitting and worthy tribute to one of the many people who make the NHL tick behind the scenes.
Stafford, a pretty decent player in his own right who won CIAU titles with the Alberta Golden Bears before hitting the equipment room, was a member of all five of Edmonton’s Stanley Cup teams. He was a member of Canada’s 1994 World Championship team, the 2002 Canadian Olympic Team and the 2004 World Cup team.
A damn good equipment man, Barrie Stafford. A damn good man, period. And now, the guy who equipped arguably the greatest team ever assembled in the powerhouse Oilers of the 1980s, doesn’t need to buy a ticket to get into the HHOF anymore like the rest of us.
That’s good because Stafford is, ahem, frugal. Cheap, actually.
A GREAT CAREER
It wouldn’t be difficult to write 10,000 words on Stafford’s career, especially having travelled with him for a decade until 2007. Now the team’s director of special projects, Stafford has endless stories to tell and there are countless more that could be told by others.
If you want to take a trip down memory lane with Stafford and his very famous friends, David Staples of The Journal did a terrific series on him last June. It’s here. I’ll keep my account considerably more brief.
As for the frugal reference, well, that started back in the early 1980s when GM Glen Sather promoted Stafford from Wichita and demanded that he run a tight ship – at the insistence, no doubt, of owner Peter Pockinglinton. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could patch, modify and create equipment that somehow did the trick or stretch a stick budget like Stafford.
That frugality carried over beyond work hours. Stafford, as I recall, even worked over a guy in Times Square in New York over one of those knock-off Rolex watches we used to buy. I’m not sure if the vendor ended up paying Stafford to take the watch when the deal was done, but close.
Given the long hours and short pay for those who keep NHL teams suited up and ready to go as members of Stafford’s profession, it’s no surprise he has an eye for a bargain, be it a bogus Rolex or a shipment of sticks.
I’ve long admired Stafford and assistant equipment man Sparky Kulchisky – and those like them with every team for that matter — for the jobs they do because while they were travelling with an NHL team, which at first blush sounds pretty glamorous, the simple fact is they work their asses off.
Whether it was another bit of Janne Niinimaa’s equipment that "just didn’t feel right" or a player super fussy about the particular edge put on his skate blades (Dean McAmmond comes to mind), Stafford found a way to get it done even if there was no time to do it.
Equipment guys are the first off the plane when the team lands in any given city and the last guys in the sack. While we’d be bussing to the hotel and off to bed or out to sample the nightlife, Stafford and his crew would leave the plane and head to the rink to wash, patch, prepare and lay out equipment until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., whatever it took. Next morning, they’d be first at the rink. I’d get tired just from watching them work that hard.
One night in Chicago during the 2003-04 season, Jussi Markkanen took ill with food poisoning. Ty Conklin was recalled from the minors but would be late. Stafford was told shortly before game time video coach and practice goalie Brian Ross would have to take the warm-up as back-up to Tommy Salo. Ross had no equipment. No jersey. Well, no problem.
Stafford pulled out a Kari Haakana jersey frm his road stock. He grabbed an extra name bar or two, cut them up and fabricated a name bar for Ross – Rossco. He stitched it together in a matter of minutes and had Ross out there for the pre-game warm-up without missing a beat or neglecting anything else he had to do.
"You’re something," I said to Stafford as we watched the warm-up from the bench and the crowd settled in. "All in a night’s work," he shrugged with a wink.
All in a HHOF career’s work, Bub. Congratulations.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.