Stingers Equipment Manager Is Living His “Dream Job”
Daryl Ashenden Loves Every Minute of His Life as an Equipment Manager
On Nov. 9, the Stingers men’s hockey team prepared for another game against their crosstown rivals as they visited McGill’s McConnell Arena.
What was supposed to be an intense and riveting game turned into a needlessly violent affair with more penalty minutes than total time played. What most onlookers didn’t notice was the absolute chaos that was unfolding behind the scenes. With broken sticks, broken helmets, and bloody injuries all needing to be addressed simultaneously, the night was the quintessential example of something Stingers equipment manager Daryl Ashenden calls a “nightmare game.”
“The first five minutes of that game, I probably did more behind the bench than I had at any point during the season,” said Ashenden. “I felt like a player in that respect, because you can’t let anything get to you and you can’t get in your own head, otherwise you’re screwed.”
Hockey operates at ludicrous speeds, which means things are bound to break, undo, or just simply wear out. If that ever happens in the middle of a game, being prepared for everything that such an unpredictable sport can throw your way is of paramount importance.
Equipment management is all about operating behind the scenes. If nobody notices you, odds are you’re doing your job right. However, with that territory comes a thankless and gruelling endeavour that can become monotonous and borderline maddening if you aren’t cut out for it.
“You really have to love what you do to have this job, or else you’ll drive yourself insane within a couple of days,” laughed Ashenden. “It’s definitely not a job for everyone, and people who think it’s an easy ride of just showing up to watch hockey and replacing a few broken sticks here and there are in for a wild surprise.”
Ashenden got his start in the Greater Metro Junior Hockey League with his hometown Tottenham Steam. He spent two years with the North Bay Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League before coming on board with the Stingers. Between working in retail, various pro-shops and coaching, Ashenden’s working experience with equipment spans over 20 years, despite only having had the title of equipment manager for a portion of them.
“It just felt like the natural progression of things for me since I want to stay involved in hockey as much as possible,” Ashenden said. “Once I finished playing, I started coaching and now as an equipment manager I still get to be involved with a team and have a really good bond with the guys.”
It’s not just Ashenden who enjoys the players’ company as that sentiment is often reciprocated. Stingers defenceman Carl Neill and others in the locker room say they’ve noticed how much more personal of an approach Ashenden implements compared to past equipment managers.
“Daryl is one of the guys, no doubt about it,” said Neill. “He’s the hardest worker on the team and he’s here more than anyone else so everybody just enjoys having that kind of passion around.”
“[Ashenden’s] already got his hands full with the men’s team but he always manages to find time to help out with anything we need,” said women’s team captain Devon Thompson. “It’s always nice for everybody’s morale to have someone that’s so passionate about what they do.”
After finishing the preparations for the women’s practice at around 7 a.m, Ashenden then turns his full attention to the men’s practice, where he replaces any broken equipment, sharpens everyone’s skates, and organizes the jerseys after men’s head coach Marc-André Élement informs him of the lines.
“[Ashenden’s] been with us less than a year and he’s really transitioned nicely,” said Élement. “He’s getting along really well with the guys and he takes any possible situation in stride. He’s a guy you can count on and that’s a big thing in your staff.”
Everything is in order and ready for practice at 9 a.m, hours before the men’s team is on the ice. That kind of preparation and readiness has been a focus for Ashenden since his days in his hometown of Tottenham.
“Whether it’s practice or a game day, I always like getting everything done early so that if there’s ever even a potential problem we can address it before the players even get here,” said Ashenden. “I usually like to get to the rink four or five hours before a game so that everything runs smoothly come game-time.”
“At the end of the day, hockey is my life. I get up every morning and I’m instantly surrounded by my favourite sport. Then, I get to talk about it with a bunch of friends who feel exactly the same way.” —Daryl Ashenden
It’s not just the comradery that helps Ashenden stay motivated, but a passion for both hockey and its minutiae that keeps him light on his feet and always smiling. Even if he has to run around all practice to make sure everything is handled, there’s always a discernable spring in his step.
“At the end of the day, hockey is my life. I get up every morning and I’m instantly surrounded by my favourite sport. Then, I get to talk about it with a bunch of friends who feel exactly the same way,” said Ashenden. “How can you not be motivated to work when the job is this great?”
While playing a team sport is in no way a rarity, very few have gotten to the level where an equipment manager is provided. This leads to the misconception that the job essentially boils down to being an “overqualified water-boy,” something that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I really do take offense to that when people think that way. This is my dream job and every day I get to come to the rink with a bunch of great guys and do what I love,” said Ashenden. “I think that a lot of those ideas might just come from people not necessarily being informed and the fact that equipment managers aren’t available at every level and they may not have much experience with one.”
Stingers players are certainly aware of just how important Ashenden and his work are.
“He gets nowhere near enough credit for what he does; it’s a pretty thankless job and he still comes in every day with the best attitude and a massive smile” said Neill. “He works insane hours and always goes above and beyond what’s needed of him.”
What people can take away from Ashenden’s story is that you may not know what your dream job is right away. But once you find it, nothing—not even sweaty, smelly hockey equipment or waking up before sunrise—can stop you from being passionate about working in a field where you not only excel, but are surrounded by people who appreciate effort and commitment.
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