Inside the Equipment Room

Published by Michael Keeley, Maine Mariners Media Relations and Broadcast Manager

From the East entrance to the Mariners locker room, just inside the Spring Street staff doors of Cross Insurance Arena, the first door on the left upon entering the room is the the office of Mariners equipment manager, Mark Riepe. Hard at work at all hours of the day, Mark's job is seemingly endless. Arriving at the rink hours and hours before anyone else, and leaving after the lights go out, the game itself is only a blip on the radar of Mark's day. Between laundry, skate sharpening, sewing, ordering things and picking them up, you won't often have a conversation Mark in which he's not multitasking. Everyone always needs him, too - the coaching staff and the players, of course. Even members of front office staff (such as myself) are constantly asking for favors from him. Mark is pulled in multiple directions at multiple times of the day. He's highly in demand, and rarely gets a break. Nevertheless, you can't wipe the smile off his face.

Mark sits just inside the door so it's easy for me and everyone else to bug him

We had just wrapped up the preseason - a pair of exhibition games in Exeter, New Hampshire. The bus was scheduled to leave at 3:30 PM for the 7:00 Saturday night start, but Mark took off at dawn behind the wheel of a box truck (along with athletic trainer Cole Libby) to prepare the locker room and make The Rinks at Exeter the temporary home of the Mariners. Inside the truck were player bags, equipment trunks and bags, trainer trunks, a sewing machine, skate sharpener, tables, water jugs, water bottles, stick tools, treatment tables, pucks, and hydroculators - just to name a few items. Not all of these items will travel with the Mariners in the regular season, but to get the feel of a regular season game, the Mariners traveling road show was in full effect.

Does anyone know what a "hydroculator" is? Hint: it is not this thing.

Now back home and readying for the season opener, Mark's day is largely consumed with stitching. Players are cut from training camp, added from AHL rosters, and switching numbers faster than I can keep track of. The numbers aren't the struggle, the name plates are. Luckily, Mark isn't at the mercy of anyone for name plates - he makes his own. Taking a plate off isn't quite as seamless (pun intended) as sewing one on. Luckily, the beginning of the season is the only time that this task will take up so much time. But with constant movement to and from the ECHL, the sewing machine will stay hot.

Seamless name plates.

The equipment room itself is quite large (or at least long). It leads from the front of the locker room across to the hallway in the tunnel beneath the arena seats. Jerseys are hanging from every conceivable spot, but all organized based on pre-stitched, post-stitched or currently unassigned. A washer and dryer complete the room, because hockey gear tends to smell from time-to-time. Everything is labeled and organized. Organized chaos seems to be the perfect term.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Mark was added to the staff in May, after being named "Equipment Manager of the Year" for the SPHL's Peoria Rivermen in 2017-18. He's a native of Fort Worth, Texas and worked in the NAHL with his hometown Lone Star Brahmas prior to going pro. As you work the way up the hockey chain, there's less burden on players and more burden on equipment managers from a game preparation standpoint. No more carrying your own hockey bags or sharpening your own skates. (although some guys still like to do this)

Blades of Glory.

For a 7:00 PM game, Mark will arrive at 6 or 6:30 AM - a full 12+ hours before puck drop (That translates to 5 or 5:30 AM for the 6:00 PM home opener). Usually there's a morning skate to prepare for in addition to the game. When the game begins, his job isn't over. If a stick breaks or a skate blade snaps, Mark has to be on call to fix the situation quickly. When the game is over, he's the last one to leave the rink. And a lot of the time, there's another game the next day - often less than 24 hours later. It's a grueling job, sometimes thankless and all the time demanding. But Mark loves it, and he's still smiling.