Nobody ever said a job in hockey would be completely glamorous, and Dave Aleo would probably agree.
Aleo enters his fourth season as the the Walleye's head equipment manager and his 19th season in pro hockey. Aleo's career began when he approached a junior team in Niagara Falls, Ont., and asked if there was any way he could help out the team. Before he knew it, he was sharpening skates and counting sticks. Since then, he's worked with the Toledo Storm, the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs and the NHL's New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In Toledo, he is head of a four-person staff that does everything from ordering equipment to packing and unpacking the team bus, and washing, drying and folding uniforms.
Aleo's job requires organization -- he carries a whiteboard and a checklist of things to do when the Walleye travel. Yet when he began working in hockey, Aleo didn't expect his job responsibilities to include tailoring. Among the more unusual items that travel with Aleo? A sewing machine.
You worked with the New York Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs, but what brought you to Toledo?
The first time I came to Toledo was with the Storm. They were looking for an equipment guy, and I knew [Walleye coach] Nick [Vitucci] from working camps back in our hometown. The opportunity came up and I thought it would be nice to come and be the head guy. I'd worked for so many years as an assistant.
What are some of your responsibilities?
Taking care of players' day-to-day needs. I take care of ordering all the equipment, such as skates and sticks. I keep that stuff in good working order.
What is a game-day routine like for you?
On a game day, I get in at 7:30 a.m. to the Huntington Center. We have our first skate at 10 a.m. and then after the players leave, we start getting ready for the game. We take about an hour break for lunch from noon to 1, and then get ready for the game. Get the jerseys and socks out, and if there's skates to be sharpened, I do those before every game. Me and my staff get ready for the players' arrival around 4:30. After a game, we get ready for the next day. If it's a game day, the next day, I try to sharpen as many skates as possible and get uniforms ready. And I'll probably leave around 11 p.m.
What about if you're on the road, or if you're leaving on a road trip?
If we travel the day of a game, there's a morning skate in Toledo, then we pack the players bags, load the bus and pick the players up at their apartment complex to go on the road. If we're going to Kalamazoo or Cincinnati, I'm here at 7:30 in the morning, and I probably wouldn't get home until 2 a.m.
You're described as being detail-oriented. Why is that important in your line of work?
You always have to try to be one step ahead of the guys. I like to go around and check some things. A lot of times I'll see something, and I'll fix something before a player comes to me. The more organized you are, the easier your job will be. I don't like to leave something to the next day when it can be done right then. Plus, you don't know what the next day will bring, with player transactions, injuries or something else that's unexpected.
Are players picky about what they like? Maybe there's a certain brand of stick or a certain color of laces, or even uniform numbers?
There's a lot of players who like a certain number. When we sign someone, I'll ask a player for their first choice of uniform number. I'll also ask for a second or third. We try to help them that way. I find that players, there's always something that they're picky about, whether it's skates or the curve of their stick. Everybody has something they're most comfortable with. I've never had a problem with players being uncomfortable with or without something.
What's the most unusual equipment request you've gotten? Are there any specific things that you've had to go out of your way to hunt for, like a certain type of tape or a certain set of shoulder pads?
I don't think there's been a player that's ever asked for anything that seemed so outrageous. The stuff that's easy to find. You'll always have one player in the room who wants a tighter jersey or different players who want a different curve of their stick. But nothing seems too unusual.
Has there ever been an equipment request you couldn't fulfill?
No. In this league, we have some good deals in place, and that makes it easier.
What's the most unusual piece of equipment you use?
There's a sewing machine right here, so if something needs changed or sewn on, I can do that.
How have you seen the hockey community change in Toledo, and what's been constant about it over the last 15 years?
Fans are passionate here. The passion always was here, even from the old [Toledo] Sports Arena. I didn't know what to expect here when I first came. When I got here, I realized, they've had hockey here forever. It's a great atmosphere and people here, they know what they're talking about. When you get here you realize, it's so close to Detroit, which is a great hockey town. And it's a great location for hockey. It's great for sports in this area. There's football here and basketball, but hockey is so popular.