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Parker takes equipment manager post with NHL’s Capitals

The days are long. The nights can be, too.

But Nashua’s Cameron Parker doesn’t mind one bit. The call came, and he’s made it to the bigs – as in the National Hockey League.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Parker, who was promoted to the position as assistant equipment manager of the NHL’s Washington Capitals from his job as the head equipment manager with their ECHL affiliate in Charleston, S.C. “An opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I got an opportunity, and I wasn’t going to let it slide.”

Yes, it’s the same for an equipment guy and any member of a team’s support staff as it is with a player hoping to go from the minors to the majors. Parker, like any player, languishing in the minor leagues, got a call out of the blue that a spot would open up at the top level and was his, something he originally thought wouldn’t happen for awhile.

“Now that I’m here I want to stay here, and have some longevity and be here for a long time,” he said.

And that’s certainly possible, as one of the other assistant equipment managers with the Caps has been there for 39 years, according to Parker.

“I’m hoping to be there just as long, you know? Have a long career like that,” he said.

How did this all begin? Parker admits hockey has been a big part of his life since he was 3 and was watching his uncle play, and he was working at a hockey equipment store in Nashua during his time as a player for the first hockey teams at Nashua High School North under then-coach Jim Miner.

But his playing days were basically done, so when he was a sophomore at Southern New Hampshire University, when the Penmen’s hockey team needed a student equipment manager.

Parker knew how to sharpen skates, so why not?

“I just kind of took that over once I realized ‘I’m not good enough to play anymore,'” Parker said.

And a hockey equipment guy was born.

Of course, it wasn’t easy, especially for a college kid.

“It was tough, they practiced before classes in the morning, and for a college kid, that’s not exactly what you want to do,” he said.

But Parker got right into it. He’d go to practice at 7, 7:30, then drop the team laundry off at the athletic facility, as the rink was off campus, “And then I’d hurry up and go to class, and try not to fall asleep during classes.

“It was tough, but it was a learning lesson for me, what it’s going to take,” Parker said. “The early hours, etc., it was kind of a brief introduction for me.

“It was a way for me to still be in hockey, still be on a team, have a passion to win, and do what I can to help. If I couldn’t play anymore, I still wanted to be around it. I love hockey, I love sports. I couldn’t be behind a desk working 9 to 5.”

Three years as an equipment manager – equipment managers are hockey’s version of what a clubhouse manager would be in baseball – made Parker serious enough to take things to the next level.

What would that be?

He went to where hockey is religion – Minnesota.

“I worked at a hockey camp,” he said. “I knew if I was going to do this and make it a career, I wasn’t going to live anywhere near New Hampshire. I wanted to see if I could live away from home and try this.”

He didn’t know a single soul, drove out with his Mom, who flew home once they got to Minneapolis. And he worked there for three months.

At first for Parker it was scary, his first time being that far away from home. But the busy 18 hours a day work kept him from thinking about any nerves. “Looking back on it,” he said, “it was a really fun time in my life.”

What does it take to be an equipment manager?

“It’s a commitment, and a lifestyle, because your life basically revolves around work,” he said. “Sometimes you get home at 2 a.m.and have to be back at the rink at 6. It takes a lot of commitment, lifestyle, and self sacrifice.”

Parker’s next big gig came upon the winter of his return, as he was hired at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester as the assistant equimpment manager in athletics, but he basically oversaw the men’s and women’s hockey team’s needs on a full time basis. But he also did football, baseball and softball.

“All 27 teams, it was me and one other person,” Parker said. “Once football season started in the beginning of August, there were no days off until spring break.”

That’s when, as Parker said, “it really clicked in me what it actually took.”

Parker liked working with the other sports; it certainly wasn’t bad sitting outside on a nice sunny day working with the baseball team during a game in the stands after being indoors all winter. But hockey was his passion.

So after three full seasons at Holy Cross, Parker got his first job working for a professional team, hired by the Springfield (Mass.) Falcons of the AHL in 2015.

But the reorganization in the AHL with affiliates moving out closer to their parent NHL teams out west. But Parker was in the loop, more or less, and through networking landed a job with the Charleston, S.C. Stingrays of the ECHL as the head equipment manager. They just happened to be – you guessed it – an affiliate of the Capitals.

Springfield, meanwhile, opened his eyes to what had to be done at the professional level.

“Everything just gets ramped up a little bit,” he said. “There’s way more games, way more practices, and you’re traveling a lot more. And the players are professional. They’re not college kids; they’re adults. It was a little easier to work with the pro guys once I got in there. It’s a lot different than college.”

And the job with Charleston had its perks, because he would be able to work at the Capitals training camps, development camps, etc.

“So coming up here (in D.C.) to work full time, it was a great situation for me, because I knew exactly where I was going,” he said. “Familiarity with the city, the buildings, and the people.”

A TYPICAL

EQUIPMENT

MAN’S DAY

What is an equipment guy’s typical day? Often he’s the first one to the rink, last to leave. You open up the locker room, lights, radio, TVs all one, “and make the facility look presentable and open.”

Sharpen skates. Hang jerseys for practice. Fold towels. Take care of any laundry. Set up any rooms for visiting teams, if needed. There’s also work to do with equipment invoices and orders, making sure they’re submitted so the vendors get paid, but that won’t be part of his duties in Washington, that falling to the head equipment man. Parker also learned to sew a while ago, so he can repair any jersey holes.

But the bonus? Being on the bench for the games, which for Parker began with the Capitals season opener at Buffalo and then this weekend a visit to Pittsburgh.

“There’s a million little things,” Parker said, “but the nice part is when all that’s done and you can be on the bench and watch your guys out there.”

Yes, it’s an all-encompassing, detail-filled, and at times tedious job. What about it has appealed to Parker all these years?

“Just being part of a team again,” he said. “Still being involved with hockey, and being able to travel, go places and do things that people only see on TV.”

He’s on a team of stars, one that won the Stanley Cup in 2018, but a special star just arrived in Washington, one that Parker had rooted for in his younger days – former longtime Bruin Zdeno Chara.

“I was excited,” he said, adding that his phone was blowing up with texts. “I actually made a call to one of my former co-workers at Holy Cross, he actually worked with Boston.”

So he got the skinny on Chara, and how it was to work with him. “He said, ‘You’re going to love this guy,'” Parker said. “But it was exciting. I grew up watching him. He’s in the locker room, and I’m just trying to earn his trust and his respect.”

And that’s something Parker has been working on with all the players. Remember, he’s gone from working with college players, to aspiring minor leaguers, to millionaires.

“It’s a slow process,” Parker said. “I’m the new guy on the staff. I’m the low man on the totem pole, so to speak. There are guys who have been there 10, 15 and 39 years. It’s a slow process, just takes time. “It’s a ‘Hey, how you feeling? How’s it going?’ Just little things, getting to know them each day, little conversations, and it gets to build. And when you get on the road, it just takes time.”

So far he’s established great rapport with Caps Brenden Dillon, Tom Wilson, especially. And he’s getting to know superstar Alex Ovechkin. “But everyone’s been open with the new guy on the staff,” he said.

And don’t forget the coaches, as former Bruins assistant and longtime NHL head coach Peter Laviolette is now the Caps bench boss.

“It’s getting them whatever they need to be successful,” Parker said of the relationship between the equipment staff and head coach. “It’s just like the players, a slow process, but the minute they need something, you’ve got to do it.They’re the head coach, they’re in charge, you know?”

Of course, Parker is part of a four-person staff, which helps. When he was in South Carolina, he was basically it. He’s gone from a mom and pop store to a major corporation.

“It’s amazing having three other people,” he said. “They can do the same thing that I do and they love it just as much as I do.”

THE PANDEMIC

EFFECT

Parker after he was promoted had to, like everyone else, hold his breath as to when things would begin with the NHL due to the pandemic.

“It was just a matter of time,” he said. “A lot of people something was going to get set. You figure if basketball can do it, minor league teams can do it, the NFL can do it, then the NHL can do it.”

And obviously as an equipment man, Parker puts himself at risk all the time. Masks all day, gloves all days, hand sanitizer everywhere, and he’s tested every day.

In any event, he’s living the dream. One of his favorite moments was when Holy Cross played an outdoor hockey game at Fenway Park about seven years ago. Growing up a Red Sox fan, Parker was on hallowed ground.

“I’ll never forget that, having an all access pass to Fenway Park,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. My parents were excited to go to Fenway Park to watch a hockey game. It’s something I’ll always remember.”

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