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Published: Wednesday, 10/13/2010

Walleye equipment manager's organization key to operating top-notch locker room

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Dave Aleo is the ultimate behind the scenes guy.

Most Walleye fans don't know his name or face. But without Aleo no skate would glide smoothly over the ice, colorful jerseys wouldn't shine in the spotlight and no stick would ever connect with a puck for a goal.

Aleo is Toledo's head equipment manager. He's in charge of everything every player wears from head to toe, from goalie mask to a forward's shoelace.

"The main things are sharpening the skates and fixing all the equipment," he said. "Whatever they wear, I'm in charge of. I order all the equipment and jerseys."

His talents have taken him to the highest level with stints in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders.

"I always keep a good room and I always keep the players happy," Aleo said. "They see how organized I am and it makes an impression. I pay attention to details."

Aleo, who also spent three seasons with the Toledo Storm, has a built a reputation through thoroughness.

Walleye forward Adam Keefe, who also worked with Aleo during their tenure with the Storm, said he is the best in the business.

"He takes care of all of us," Keefe said. "He works as hard as us. He's like a teammate. Everyone respects him. He wants to win a title as bad as we do."

Another veteran forward, Scooter Smith, said Aleo does an unbelievable job.

"If you need him for something, he's there to do it," Smith said. "He does so many things so that we don't have to worry about them."

Aleo said he takes pride in anticipating players' needs.

"I learned in Toronto to go around and check the [locker room] stalls," Aleo said. "I make sure everything is fixed. You are there to help make them better. You do anything you can do to make life easier and to get them to perform. If something needs fixing or sharpening, it is done for them even before they ask."

Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said Aleo was the only person he had in mind when the Walleye started up operations last year.

"He does a great job," Vitucci said. "He's thorough. He's organized. Everything is well maintained. I don't have to worry about anything that Dave is involved in.

"That job is thankless. It's long hours. I think I take some things for granted because he does his job so well."

Vitucci said Aleo also can serve as a sounding board and go-between with the coaching staff and players.

"He's part psychologist too," Vitucci said. "He wants everything done professionally. He's another reason why guys want to play here."

Aleo, 44, got his start in the unique profession almost by accident when a junior hockey team came to his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont., when he was fresh out of college.

"I went down to see if they needed any help," Aleo said. "I didn't know anything about it. But they showed me how to sharpen the skates and everything else that came with it. It looked pretty neat."

He's been doing it ever since and his degree in business did not go to waste.

"It ended up helping because of the budgets and ordering and all that. I didn't know that at the time, but it's been very useful," he said.

Through connections Aleo earned a spot as an assistant equipment manager with Toronto in 1994 and stayed in that capacity until 2001 when he went to the New York Islanders.

"My first year there Dave Andreychuk and Doug Gilmour were with the Leafs. I was star struck for sure," he said. "But they showed pretty quickly they are regular guys."

Aleo counts Mats Sundin as one of his favorites.

"We'd go into different rinks and he would remember the stick boys' names," Aleo said. "He gave me the nickname 'Super Dave' after [the stuntman comedian] Dave Osborne."

One NHL highlight was when the Maple Leafs reached the final four but lost to Buffalo.

"The city was just going crazy," he said.

He also recalled when Maple Leaf Gardens closed in 1999 and the city held a parade from the old arena to the new one. In 2000, Toronto hosted the NHL all-star game and Aleo served as the teams' equipment manager.

"The NHL did a nice thing and got me a jersey with '00 for the year 2000 and it had my name on the back. All of the players had signed it," Aleo said. "After the first period, Martin Brodeur had played in goal and he was done. There he was still in full gear eating pizza in the locker room."

Aleo said he has presided over some serious negotiations over which player would wear a certain number. Seniority is the first tiebreaker, he said. While there are not many disagreements at the ECHL level, things could get interesting in the NHL.

"When Gary Roberts came to the Maple Leafs he wanted a number someone else had. So he bought it off him," Aleo said. "He talked to the guy and they came up with a figure."

After mulling over a career change for a year, Aleo missed the sport too much and came to the Storm in 2003.

"The Sports Arena just seemed like a small building. I kept hearing stories. But I did not appreciate it until the first game," Aleo said. "The crowd was so loud and passionate. These people love their hockey. It was an intimidating building."

When the Storm franchise folded he went to Hamilton of the American Hockey League from 2006-08. The team won the 2007 Calder Cup championship.

Aleo said going back to juniors, he has worked with 21 players that have gone on to play in the NHL.

"I always want to see the guys accomplish their goals," Aleo said.

Aleo said he finds himself deeply invested in winning.

"I like the competitiveness," Aleo said. "I sit and watch the game and I want to win just as bad as the guys. You put in long days and to not get a win is disappointing."

Keeping enough sticks in stock is crucial, he said. Aleo said the team can go through nearly 500 sticks in a season.

Another key aspect is making sure the names and numbers on each jersey look good.

"The jerseys are a showpiece," he said. "That is a reflection on the whole organization."

Aleo said the facilities at the Huntington Center are better than any of those in the AHL.

"There's more room to work and more storage," he said. "With a brand new rink, it's easier to keep things clean and organized. Plus it's a lot easier when a bus can pull inside when it's raining and unpack."

Aleo said of his NHL days: "Traveling on planes instead of busses is really nice. After long nights you still get in to a new city within an hour or two."

But he said the NHL had drawbacks.

"The guys need a lot more stuff and you do work a lot harder at that level," he said. "The guys don't carry their bags at that level. The guys in the ECHL chip in."



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