He doesn’t score goals or make saves, and other than a few unscheduled brief appearances on the bench he may not even be seen during games.
The hours are long, a lot of the work is monotonous and most of it’s done in the back corner of a cold arena behind closed doors.
But it’s individuals like Kensington Wild equipment manager David (Gonzo) Bernard who are the heart and soul of hockey teams.
“He means the world to this organization, and we love having him around,” said Wild head coach Kyle Dunn. “He’s been here since Day 1. He’s a character around the dressing room, and he does things that a lot of the fans, players and parents don’t even see."
Bernard, a Summerside resident, is in his 31st year working with support staffs of local hockey teams. His resumé includes 20 years with his hometown Western Capitals, five with the Western Red Wings’ junior B franchise and he’s currently in his sixth season in the major midget ranks with the Wild.
“You get to meet a lot of new people, and I still stay in touch with a lot of them from over the years,” said Bernard. “I love my work, it’s fun.”
Bernard broke into the business following his older brother, Peter, who was working with Summerside’s Crystals and Capitals’ junior A franchises in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“When Peter got out I got in, and kept going,” said Bernard.
Bernard’s Wild itinerary includes four to five nights a week at the rink. That normally includes two practices, two games and often one night packing for a road trip.
“He means a whole lot to us,” said second-year Wild forward Landon Clow. “He does everything around here behind the scenes.”
For a recent Friday night road game, Bernard spent a couple of hours Thursday evening packing team and player equipment. After arriving in Moncton, N.B., Bernard immediately went to work, once the Wild received dressing room access. First up he unpacks the stick bag, hands out jerseys, followed by setting up the bench, making Gatorade and filling water bottles.
After the game, Bernard packs up for the trip home. Upon arrival back in Kensington around 1 a.m., players, parents and team staff carry equipment into the dressing room. Unopened hockey bags positioned all around the room pose a daunting task. But while everyone heads home, Bernard goes to work.
“I put the tunes on, and away I go. There are a lot of late nights and early mornings.”
He starts unpacking team gear before turning his attention to 18 hockey bags, very carefully and neatly hanging each piece of equipment in the same position of each stall.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had someone do this for me,” said Clow. “He does everything around here.”
Work not done
Unpacking and packing gear is only part of Bernard’s workload. With the Wild playing at home Saturday night, he returns the following afternoon to hang the jerseys and clean and scrub the dressing room floor. Overall, Bernard estimates it takes about four hours to prepare for a home game after a road trip.
When completed, the Wild dressing room is pristine, and there is no indication – by the site or smell – that the room was full of unopened and sweaty hockey bags about 15 hours earlier.
“It’s a passion for this guy to come to the rink every day for 30-plus years and enjoy it,” said Dunn.
It’s this dedication that earned Bernard a Local Hometown Hero Award for his contributions to local hockey teams. As part of the presentation in September 2017, he got to meet and spend time with Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean in Summerside.
Kim MacArthur of Summerside points out Bernard’s influence on the 15-, 16- and 17-year-old players extends far beyond the rink.
“As a parent of two boys (Brodie and Colby) on the team over the last five seasons, I have watched his actions teach valuable lessons to the boys about giving time to others, always lending a hand and encouraging each player to do their best,” said MacArthur, who emphasized Bernard goes “above and beyond” for the organization. “Whether it’s unpacking the bus at 1 or 2 a.m. in minus-20 degree weather, spending hours keeping an immaculate team dressing room, cheering on each player or helping out with team fundraisers, he sets a great example for our boys.”
Bernard takes pride in maintaining a well-organized and clean dressing room. His rules of no gum, sunflower seeds or spitting on the floor help achieve this.
“When the players come into the room it’s clean, and we want it clean when they go out,” said Bernard, who is known to occasionally get a little worked up during games.
An example was the recent game in Moncton. He received a gross misconduct after entering the bench to throw a water bottle on the ice out of frustration with the officiating. The end result was a five-game suspension. It wasn’t the first time Bernard has done this, and odds are good there may be repeat performances.
While Dunn does not condone, or encourage, this type of behaviour, he does acknowledge it’s “an indication of the passion” Bernard has for the players.
As for his future, Bernard has no plans to slow down.
“Until my wife (Judy) says, ‘You’re done,’ I’ll keep coming back,” said Bernard. “I give Judy all the credit for letting me do this.”
There is, however, one goal Bernard hopes to achieve before he stops hanging up gear.
“I’d like to get to a Telus Cup.”
Kensington Wild game day notebook:
The Kensington Wild host provincial rival Charlottetown Pride on Saturday. The opening faceoff at Credit Union Centre in Kensington is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Wild enters the game in second place of the six-team New Brunswick/P.E.I. Major Midget Hockey League at 24-6-1 (won-lost-overtime losses). Fourth-place Charlottetown, which will be playing the fourth of five straight road games to complete the regular season, is 15-16-1.
This will be the final regular-season meeting between the Wild and Pride before the two teams meet in the best-of-seven provincial major midget championship series in March.
Kensington has won five of the first six regular-season meetings with Charlottetown.
The Wild will be playing just their second game in 14 days.
The Wild has announced the Northern Moose (1-28-2) from Bathurst, N.B., will visit Kensington for a make-up game on Wednesday at 7:50 p.m. This will be the Wild’s final regular-season home game.