By Justin Skelnik | Photo contributions by Ross Dettman
Chicago Wolves Head Equipment Manager Craig Kogut has been enamored of the game of hockey since he was five years old.
Growing up, he dreamed about playing professional hockey. As a teen, he realized that he was too short to make it to the big leagues, but that didn’t dash his goal of making a living from hockey. Kogut knew that he wanted to work in hockey in some capacity and being part of a pro team was the next best thing for him.
“I worked at Gunzo’s Hockey Headquarters and in those days they supplied the Chicago Blackhawks,” said Kogut. “After high school, Wally Gunzo helped me get the assistant equipment manager job with the Blackhawks in 1985-86.
“After that, I managed a sporting goods store up until my start here. I always wanted to play but when I figured out that wasn’t going to happen, I realized that being involved with a team is the next best thing.”
Being involved in his capacity means long hours during the season and having to deal with a room full of players with lots of needs. On a home game day, Kogut can spend upwards of 16 hours at the Allstate Arena.
“I like to get to the rink around 7 a.m., and the first thing I do is fire up the coffee maker,” he said. “After that, it is just cleaning up stuff left behind from the day before, prepping the room for the players, getting the benches ready for the morning skate and handling a few quick repairs.
“I like to use the morning to get those things out of the way because no one else is here. It is quiet time before the players get here and that is when I like to get most of my work done.”
Once the players arrive, Kogut takes care of any last minute needs that arise before the morning skate. While the players hit the ice, Kogut has a short period of down time, when he watches the skate and waits for the players to come off. When that happens, Kogut’s day starts to pick up.
“After the morning skate, we do the laundry, get the room prepped for the game and sharpen about 16 to 18 pairs of skates,” he described. “I’ll also take care of any last- minute repairs and hang the jerseys for who is playing that night. After that, we just wait for the boys to show up and tend to their needs.”
It is a pretty routine schedule Kogut has created and mastered, but he insists it is one that he must follow exactly in order for his work to be done before the players get back to the rink for the game.
During the game, Kogut can be found on the edge of the Wolves bench watching attentively, but he isn’t on the bench to watch the team score goals or block shots. His eyes are trained to watch other things.
“The biggest thing that people probably don’t understand is that I am not there to
watch the game,” he said. “I am there to watch for things like stick breakage. My main focus on the bench is to make sure I am ready to give a stick to a guy that comes running over to the bench with a broken one. I will also hone skates and tape a player’s stick in between shifts or a timeout. Those are the things I am focused on during games.”
After a game it’s more laundry and cleaning up the locker room for the next day. Kogut says he usually leaves the arena around 11 p.m., depending on how quickly the players leave the rink and if there is a game the next day. All in all, it is a long and demanding day, but his hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
Wolves General Manager Wendell Young has seen Kogut work for 16 years and knows his players are cared for very well.
“Kogut knows the business and is good at what he does,” said Young, who has worked with Kogut as a player, coach and now executive. “He always is prepared and handles everything that is thrown at him. He does things in-house that are usually outsourced by other teams.
“The knowledge and tutelage he provides is unmatched. We always joke that we don’t just develop players for the NHL, but also equipment managers. I think Kogut has sent six or seven former assistants to the NHL.”
Kogut’s current assistant, Dan Mulligan, has been with the team since the start of last season. Many outside of the Wolves locker room and hockey operations department may not know Mulligan, but Kogut knows how valuable a good assistant equipment manager can be.
“At the AHL level, you need two guys here on a daily basis,” said Kogut. “I don’t know how some teams do it without two guys. His job is more or less my backbone.
“I think we work fantastic as a team. He will come in and get the laundry going and take care of the visiting team when they come into town and do their laundry. He also takes care of the team’s airport runs. He is a huge part of this organization whether people know it or not.”
When Kogut reflects back on the 16 seasons he has spent with the Wolves, he doesn’t think of long days or lengthy road trips. He likes to remember things like four championships and the cleanup that followed them; spending time with former coaches John Anderson and Marty Howe on off days; and just being lucky to work for the Wolves organization.
When asked about the future, Kogut didn’t hesitate about where he would like to see himself.
“I want to be here,” Kogut said. “I never thought I would be here for 16 years and now I want to be here for another 16 years. Hockey has been my whole life. I know nothing else.”