Inside the NHL
Well before Jeff Camelio helps the Kraken stock the shelves of its new locker rooms with helmets and shin guards, sets up skate-sharpening machines or organizes laundry areas, he literally needs to get his own house in order.
That’s why Camelio, 43, the Kraken’s very first head equipment manager and a former Nashville Predators assistant, flew to Seattle with his wife, Michelle, this past weekend to begin shopping for a new residence. It took the couple only four days to unload their 2,900-square foot property in Nashville’s red-hot housing market, but finding something similar in the scorching one here is no picnic.
So, they figured it best to gauge things firsthand before the calendar turns to 2021 and Camelio’s job diverts him full time to stocking equipment at Climate Pledge Arena and the Northgate Mall training center.
“Even though we won’t start playing until September — hopefully — I would expect to start getting super busy around March or April,’’ Camelio said Monday over coffee at his downtown Seattle hotel, between meetups with his realtor. “After next hockey season, we’re going to have the expansion draft and entry draft, so we could potentially have a rookie camp or development camp here in July.
“So, even though it seems like a long way away, it’s really not a long, long time. It’ll go by fast.’’
And that means the positioning of equipment room space needs to be figured out now, while the arena and training facilities are being built. Camelio is here until Wednesday and plans to tour both construction sites before he leaves.
After 15 seasons as Nashville’s assistant equipment manager, he’s ready to be in a lead role. He got a dry run planning equipment space a decade ago, when the Predators’ Bridgestone Arena locker room area was badly damaged by massive flooding throughout middle Tennessee.
“We had the chance to make some adjustments, which helped me think about the process here a little differently,’’ Camelio said. “We were lucky enough to pretty much redo the whole room.’’
Among things he’s conscious of: location of skate-sharpening machines. Traditionally, they were close to the bench so players could remove their skates in-game, have them sharpened and lace them back on without missing much ice time.
But blades can now be detached and hurried over to machines without removing the skate boot. So, less time is needed, meaning machines can be farther from the bench and closer to dressing rooms — ideal for nongame situations.
“You can be sharpening and still be close enough to the locker room where if someone yells and needs something, you can still get over there and do what you need to do,’’ Camelio said.
And with plans showing the Kraken’s dressing room a fair distance from the ice, having the sharpener nearby should help between periods.
But there’s more to equipment managing than swapping out gear. It takes logistics to get equipment on and off the 18-foot trucks transporting everything from place to place.
“People wouldn’t realize the hours of planning that go into it day by day,’’ Camelio said. “The setup here will be, we’re going to practice at the training center — even on game days. So, to get everything moved after a morning skate will take some planning and coordinating for when the guys arrive at four o’clock for the game.
“So, there’s that and then coordinating equipment transfers when you’re playing on the road. From arenas to hotels, or wherever the gear needs to go.’’
He’s preparing a shopping list of things he’ll need right away: Thread to sew jerseys, helmet screws, plenty of stick tape and — of course — skate sharpeners.
Camelio spent years watching his former boss, Pete Rogers, handle the top equipment job in Nashville. They met when Camelio was 14 and a youth hockey player in his native Rochester, New York, where Rogers was equipment manager for the local Americans squad of the minor professional American Hockey League (AHL).
Camelio would sit near the Americans’ bench as a fan and got to know Rogers, becoming a stick boy “filling water bottles” for the team and then an assistant who traveled on some road trips.
In 1998, Rogers was named equipment manager of the expansion Predators. Camelio attended their first training camp as a guest assistant, then headed to Charleston, South Carolina, as equipment manager of a minor pro hockey team there in winter and the Class A baseball affiliate of the newly formed Tampa Bay Rays in summer.
“I became a year-round equipment guy,” he said.
Charleston is where he met his wife, who was local. Camelio’s career eventually took them to Bridgeport, Connecticut, for a stint with the New York Islanders’ AHL team before Rogers came calling in 2005 to assist him in Nashville.
“I was lucky enough to learn from my boss,’’ Camelio said. “He taught me how to manage players and a budget.’’
Predators general manager David Poile did Camelio a favor last September and arranged a meetup with Kraken GM Ron Francis, who was in Nashville scouting prospects.
“So, I was lucky enough to get 30 minutes of his time to try and pitch myself,” Camelio said.
It was the only in-person meeting with Francis he’d need. Several Zoom interviews later, Camelio was hired. Friday marked his first time ever in Seattle; he’s since been to Pike Place Market, toured the Elliott Bay waterfront, bought Kraken merchandise at the team’s Lake Union store and planned a Space Needle visit for Monday afternoon after another meetup with their realtor.
And oh yeah, he and Michelle have zeroed in on some homes north of the city. They’re still checking on school for daughter Carli, 10, and will also be joined here for at least the short term by their recent college graduate son Anthony, 22, who hopes to eventually follow in dad’s equipment manager footsteps.
Only problem is, they sold their Nashville home too quickly. So, they’ll rent an Airbnb property there until closing on something here.
“We didn’t want to wait,” Camelio said. “Yeah, we’ll be living out of a suitcase for a while but this way we’ll have everything all lined up when the time comes. It’s going to get real busy in a hurry.”