For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog, www.tailingthekomets.com.
Komets at Kalamazoo
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
Three hours before opening faceoff, Steve Wissman is trying to make sure every little thing is done before the Komets arrive.
"It's a team effort,'' the Komets' assistant equipment manager says. "If I don't do my job, then they can't do their job.''
Wissman, 47, has been pretty good at his job, and Sunday will work the 2,000th professional game of his career. He's also worked about another 500 junior games, but the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society only keeps track of the pro games.
It's kind of a cool job because he does all the stuff behind the scenes that nobody knows about or cares about, but it has to be done or a hockey team couldn't function. Part of that includes dealing with player superstitions and being ready for anything new that pops up.
Komets equipment manager Joe Franke has worked almost 3,000 games during his career, and that means he and Wissman can fix just about anything from player equipment to the team bus, which Wissman once did. Together, they could probably take the Memorial Coliseum apart and put it back together.
Wissman started out as a goalie with the old Junior Pepsi Komets and on the Harding club team. He was a stick boy under coach Ron Ullyot in the early 1980s, and then coach Rob Laird hired him for his first real job as the Komets' trainer/equipment manager in the late 1980s. Eventually, Wissman worked for 13 teams, including six seasons in the National Hockey League with the St. Louis Blues. That made things a little ironic when a former NHL player tried to convince Wissman how things were done in the show, never realizing Wissman had far more NHL time than the player.
Some freak concussions eventually pushed Wissman away from St. Louis, and he and his wife, Barbara, and sons Adam, 21, and Cory, 20, moved back to Fort Wayne where she teaches math at North Side. Three years ago, Wissman suffered a heart attack and required a triple bypass.
"It was actually a blessing in disguise that I got my concussions, because if I wouldn't have I probably would have died in a hotel or at the rink,'' he said. "In this job, you are always tired, so you don't know the effects.''
An equipment manager's hours are brutal. When he was in St. Louis, Wissman often arrived at 7 a.m. and didn't leave until midnight -- unless the Blues were traveling the next day and then he'd just sleep at the rink.
After his heart problems, Wissman tried to stay away from the game but found he couldn't stand watching from the stands. Knowing the hours Franke was putting in, Wissman volunteered to help. The two have wanted to work together since they were teenagers, and they likely give the Komets the most-experienced staff in minor league hockey.
Wissman helps out with the home games, though sometimes he rides to the road games, too. The sleeper bus fascinates him.
"The thing that is amazing is what they have to travel with now, even at this level,'' Wissman said. "I used to ride on the sleep-where-you-can bus, putting the cooler in the aisle between seats.''
He also remembers taking 5-gallon buckets to Cerutti's and cramming in as many pop cans as he could because that was what the team used for a cooler.
The job gets a little tougher when a team is struggling.
"When the team is winning, everything is great,'' Wissman said. "When the team is losing, they are looking for all the answers, especially the goalies. They are always looking to change something up to make it better.''
And it's Wissman's job to help them try something new, and hockey players are usually tremendously superstitious. When he was with the Blues, Wissman had a list of everything a player liked in his stall, from which side a towel should be hung to where drinks should be placed. Some players like having their stuff packed away by the staff, and some freak out if anyone looks at it.
His job is to basically be a valet to the players, but Wissman loves it. Now, he'll keep working for the Komets, ``Until my body says no. It just gets in your blood, and I don't know what it is.''