As told to: Joe Pack
As a 17-year-old, Derek Paternostro worked under the head athletic trainer for the Buffalo Sabres at the old Auditorium. This is Part 1 of a series written by Derek about, among other things, finding Juicy Fruit gum for Mark Messier and taking care of the visiting teams that played in The Aud.My earliest memories of The Aud are a mix of sitting in the blues with my Uncle Lou and next to a guy named Frank who could seemingly single-handedly start any cheer, to sitting up in the oranges with my father and his collection of friends like “Big Larry” and “Crazy Steve”, and everything that happens between the granite steps outside and the drop of the puck. But those aren’t the memories I still dream of. My memories of The Aud shifted dramatically just before my 17th birthday.
Jim Pizzutelli, the head athletic trainer for the Buffalo Sabres, lived a few doors down from me when I was growing up in East Amherst, NY. Our families knew each other casually. In the summer of 1992, “Pizza” as he was called, asked me if I wanted to be a stickboy for the Sabres. How could I turn that down?
I spent a few days at The Aud that summer, painting the dressing room benches, and familiarizing myself with the building alongside Pizza and assistant equipment guy Johnny “A-Man” Alloway. It was like a dream. Inside the room, the carpets were a deep oceanic blue, decorated with the Sabres logo at the centre of the room. During my down time, I would wander into the stick room and just marvel at what few sticks remained there, mismatched both in appearance and quantity, interacting with each other like strangers at a party. But it was the names that caught my eye. Bodger. Patterson. Presley. Mogilny.
I worked the visitor’s dressing room on game nights. Each team had its own character. The logos represented, not only foreign cities for me, but differences in how my night would go. I never had to worry about having to fight Tie Domi, or how to beat Patrick Roy on his glove side. Instead, my concerns were seemingly trivial. Were there going to be enough towels tonight? Was the coffee made yet? Did I remember to restock the disposable razor blades?
In my mind, I could be the deciding factor on whether or not Mark Messier had the required items to score the game winning goal. In Messier’s case (or Moose as he insisted I call him) it was Juicy Fruit gum. It was quite a paradox to be assisting every other NHL team to beat my own boyhood club. So it was filling the rotund, orange Gatorade jugs in the shower, while pouring the powdered mix into the spraying water, and mixing with a wooden shaft of a cut off hockey stick stained with games long forgotten.
Although I started my tenure alone, I quickly found that a second guy would make my job a lot easier, even though I would have to share the money. Mike Rinaggio was my best friend at school, and being able to work with him meant we’ve been friends to this day. Being called stickboys somehow implied that our jobs consisted of only taking care of them like apprentices to a knight’s sword. Obviously there were many jobs within the job, but yes, some of it entailed bringing the spare sticks out to the benches before warmups.
In Buffalo, the benches were not accessible down a short hall like many of today’s arenas. There was a treacherous journey one would make as we carried upwards of 50-60 sticks across a clean, wet sheet of NHL ice. I am proud to say that I never took a spill on any of my treks. That’s not to say I didn’t come close. One of only two ovations I can ever recall receiving, from a crowd that didn’t include my parents, was right when I crossed the faceoff dot in that semi-awkward, semi-glorious moment. My left foot slid out behind me as I tried to push off but I maintained balance. I went down to one knee, and steadily brought myself back upright, as the sweat instantly covered my back, more out embarrassment than exertion. Fans, who were eagerly waiting for their heroes to step out onto the ice for warmups, let out a soft, but audible cheer from the seats.
JOE PACK is a freelance writer based in Toronto and a rec-league rent-a-goalie.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *