It’s 7:00 a.m. at the Essar Centre, twelve hours before puck drop, and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds head equipment manager Michael Boyes is already getting to work. The players are still asleep but getting their gear ready for that night’s game begins long before the first whistle.
For the last two years this has been a regular routine for Boyes, a Whitby Wildcats grad. Depending on the schedule, his days can stretch out to 17 hours at the rink. He doesn’t expect anyone to see what he does behind the scenes. As Boyes explains it, most of his job description are tasks before and after the actual game. He is setting up before the players arrive to the rink and cleaning up after the final buzzer. His schedule certainly isn’t the usual eight-hour punching of the clock.
“The cool thing about my job is that there really is no typical day,” said the 25-year-old Boyes. “I have my normal routines but everyday something different happens in terms of teams coming in, equipment repairs, players and coaches needing things for practices and games.”
Boyes’ dream is still to make it to the NHL. While his time as a player is finished, it’s his new role in hockey that is keeping that dream alive. The importance of Boyes’ job can’t be overlooked in the big picture.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds dressing room.
As head equipment manager, Boyes can be described as the point man in the arena for any requests that players or coaching staff may have. He will help out in practices while setting up the dressing room with tape, jerseys, skates, socks and any other equipment before heading over to the visiting team room and assisting with supplies. All of this is before any players have arrived to the arena. Boyes is also responsible for managing the referee’s room as well as the benches where the players sit.
Once the game is over, Boyes starts his cleanup of all the dressing rooms. By the time he leaves the rink, it's already been empty for an hour and a half. But his work isn’t done there.
Not only is he the Greyhounds equipment manager but Boyes is often the welcoming greeter for visiting teams. Sault Ste. Marie is so far away that every team requires an overnight before they lace up against the Greyhounds. When a team arrives in the wee hours of the morning following games in Sudbury, Saginaw or Flint, it’s Boyes who is responsible for letting the other coaching staff into the building to get prepared for the next day’s practice. He will also take on the task of doing his opponent’s laundry, a favour that is returned for him when he is on the road.
And he’s on the road a lot.
Boyes was born with hockey in his blood.
His father, Bryan, has been the equipment manager and athletic therapist for the Oshawa Generals for over three decades. He would often bring Michael as a kid around the Civic Auditorium and in the dressing room, first just for the experience but soon to put him to work. When he was in Grade 9, Michael was officially brought on to the Generals training staff as a water boy. He learned on the job, gaining more responsibilities along the way. Soon, being a part of game day turned into helping out at practices as well, when he was available. After two years at nearby Durham College in the Sport Management program, Michael’s position grew into a full-time gig and he spent three years with the Generals.
It didn’t take long for Hockey Canada to notice his work. Boyes has travelled from Montreal to Calgary with the organization, helping out in various events. He’s worked a World Junior development camp, a U18 selection camp, a pair of U17 tournaments as well as three goaltending camps. Throughout this time, he’s met players who have suited up in the NHL and worked in arenas like the Montreal Canadiens’ practice rink and Hockey Canada’s facilities in Alberta.
Boyes played house league hockey with the Whitby Wildcats.
Before moving to a role off the ice, Boyes maxed out his playing time in the minor hockey world. Every year from Tyke to Juvenile, Boyes suited up in the Wildcats house league circuit.
“I was lucky enough to play on good teams most years that won the league twice and made it to the finals numerous other times.”
From local tournaments in the Whitby area to hitting the road for some weekend round robins, Boyes developed many skills that still translate to his job today. It was his time playing for the Wildcats that taught him teamwork, leadership, accountability and work ethic, all of which apply to his everyday role.
The biggest lesson was one he picked up from a spot of adversity. He attended tryouts for the AA team a few times when he was younger but never made the final roster. Yet Boyes still had fun being competitive at the house league level. Just because he was cut from the tryouts it didn’t mean it was the end of his time in hockey.
“It taught me that I could work on what I needed to in order to get better and try again the next year. And although I never made it, I think the lesson has helped get me to where I am today in chasing my NHL dream outside of playing.”
Located roughly an equal distance between Thunder Bay and Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie is three and a half hours away from the next closest OHL team. Junior hockey is filled with classic stories of long bus rides - it’s all a part of the journey. It can take some getting used to unless it’s always been a part of your life like it has for Boyes. He loves being able to travel across the country and says hockey has allowed him to see places you may never otherwise have had the chance to visit. However, he will also admit it can be draining at times, wearing on you mentally more than anything.
“We tend to go on the road every other week for five days and three games at a time. We always have to leave the day before the game to make sure we get there on time and the players don't have ‘bus legs’ going in.”
Yet the Greyhounds’ unique location does provide the team with one of the best travel schedules according to Boyes.
“We only had one 3-in-3 (three games in three nights) all year, where a lot of teams like Oshawa or Mississauga that are pretty central play 3-in-3s all the time. When we're on the road we tend to play teams that are close to each other and we try to only stay in only one or two hotels so we aren't bouncing all over the place.”
Boyes was the equipment manager of the Greyhounds for two seasons.
Luckily for Boyes, he’s used to all the moving. The Binghamton Senators, the AHL affiliate of the parent club Ottawa Senators, will be his third stop in less than five years. It’s a job he accepted over the summer and he will be the team’s new assistant equipment manager for the upcoming season. Boyes wants to learn the differences between pro and junior hockey and will be under the tutelage of respected equipment manager in Matt Mitchell.
While it’s his biggest gig yet, the population is the smallest of all three places he’s worked. It can be tough to go from city to city, and the stress of finding a new place to live in an unfamiliar place can take its toll. Constantly moving away from family and friends to a place where you don’t know anyone isn’t ideal, but Boyes is becoming a seasoned veteran in that regard. The travel with the Senators will take him from coast to coast across two countries.
“Right now at my age I'm able to jump from city to city until I hopefully make it to the NHL. It’s fun to live in and travel to different cities and places to experience the different cultures and attractions. It’s something that not everyone has the opportunity to do.”
If you’re looking for Boyes to complain about his job, you’ll have to wait a while. He knows how lucky he is to be doing what he loves. Growing up around the rink has turned his position into something that doesn’t feel like a job, instead it’s just the norm.
“I honestly couldn't imagine what I would do if I wasn't an equipment manager. My goal ever since I was a kid playing Tyke hockey in Whitby is to make it to the NHL and there was no reason that goal needed to stop at playing.”
For now, keep an eye behind the Binghamton bench. If he isn’t making the game happen from the halls of the locker room, that’s where you’ll find Boyes. Until his next stop.