Penguins equipment manager attends to multitude of details
Pouring coffee with Penguins head equipment manager Dana Heinze can be a revealing experience.
First, grab a Styrofoam cup, black or gold with the Penguins logo on the side. Heinze packs these for road trips and insists the Penguins are the only NHL team that travels with logo-covered cups.
But don’t dare put cream at the bottom and pour. That’s an inadequate mix. Instead, dump one into the other, then repeat.
Spill a little? In an instant, there’s an outstretched arm offering a paper towel.
“It’s the little details that set us apart,” Heinze said. “People might think it’s excessive or extreme, but I think it makes a difference.”
Heinze, 46, is a master of details. The 2014-15 season is Heinze’s ninth in his current role, each more obsessive-compulsive than the last.
The man who outfits the Penguins, who fixes equipment, who sharpens skates, who ensures players are offered their preferred hair product and who organizes the locker room, leaves no box unchecked.
Heinze and the three men working under him — Dan Kroll, Teddy Richards and Jon Taglianetti — travel with signage and rugs to make visiting locker rooms feel like home.
Before leaving, however, those same four men set up the home locker room at Consol Energy Center as if there was a game. Why?
“Because I’ll know it’s not perfect,” Heinze said.
Crazy? Perhaps. But that’s Heinze’s world. It’s one that starts before 6 a.m., regardless of whether the team returned home only a few hours before.
On game days, Heinze doesn’t make it home for the 11 o’clock news. Or Letterman.
Heinze’s wife Kathy said her husband logs 90-100 hours per week in season.
“I always feel like, if I leave, the building’s going to fall down,” Heinze said. “I know that’s not the case, but that’s me. I have to get over that hurdle.”
In a world as transient and ruthless as the NHL, Heinze said he believes teams can gain an advantage by making sure players are comfortable.
Whether it’s packing two pairs of skates for every player, creating carbon copies of their exact skate blade cut or a few years ago finding winger Jarome Iginla a pair of gloves that hadn’t been made in four years, it’s hard to argue.
“He brings an energy to the locker room,” forward Beau Bennett said. “He’s a quirky guy; you love to see him in the locker room because he’s a fun guy to be around.
“He’s always there asking what you need. He’s getting it done right away, and he’s in your corner.”
Pride in the logo
How detailed and meticulous is Heinze?
The morning after coach Mike Johnston and assistant Rick Tocchet were hired, they had lockers with nameplates to reflect the changes.
Former coach Dan Bylsma and two his assistants who were fired, Todd Reirden and Tony Granato, did not.
In Heinze’s vault — he won’t call it storage because he thinks that makes it sound expendable — there are five electronic carriages that move side-to-side to reveal 15-foot walls housing every possible pad or piece of clothing a player may need.
Each compartment is neatly labeled with Penguins logo magnets.
Look at Heinze’s work rooms for skates, jerseys and sticks. There’s not a single tool on any counter. Everything is marked.
“You could sneak in on us tomorrow or the next day, and you’re going to get the same details,” Heinze said. “It’s how we do our business.”
In the skate shop, things for the right boot are located on the right of the room, the left on the left.
Heinze marks each skate with a born-on date along with that player’s cut preferences.
He’s saved every piece of skate steel he’s changed since 2006. Hand-written descriptions, of course.
Heinze purposely displays photos of himself and his staff — not Penguins players — throughout the behind-the-scenes equipment areas as a way to celebrate their hard work and build morale.
“On the outside, it should be all about the players. They’re the stars,” Heinze said. “But in the skate shop, why not celebrate our staff? We work hard, too.”
Heinze calls himself “artsy” and views arranging a locker room on the road as “having an empty palette.”
If a shoelace is flopped over the outside of a skate boot, Heinze wants it tucked in — and will do it himself, never viewing himself as too big for a situation.
“That’s one of our big mottos, the attention to detail,” said Kroll, who’s worked for Heinze since December 2006. “Dana has a lot of pride in our logo and what it stands for.
“We’re proud of what we offer to the players, especially on the road with making the road dressing room look like Pittsburgh with all our signs and logo carpets. I think it really helps a little bit, you know?”
‘Long, strange road trip’
Such exactness isn’t limited to the rink for Heinze, who went to Westmont Hilltop High School near Johnstown and previously worked in the Devils and Lightning organizations.
When Heinze talks about his commute from the North Hills, he points out that it takes 18 minutes, not 20. Same for his drive to Westmont, which is precisely 58 miles.
“He’s not quite the same way at home,” Kathy said with a laugh. “I don’t think he could be that way. He would probably go crazy. It would be too much.”
Heinze hated math growing up and learned numbers by memorizing baseball cards. As a result, he wound up collecting complete sets one pack at a time dating back to his birth year — 1967.
Only in 2002 did he start buying factory-issued sets.
“When I start to get into something, I go in — two feet,” Heinze said. “I feel like I have to have everything.”
Dana and Kathy Heinze don’t have kids, a decision they made a while back because of Dana’s hectic schedule.
Instead, the couple rescues dogs and cats — always two at a time, each with various maladies.
Of everything Heinze has collected over the years, one of his favorites is a poster that features the Grateful Dead’s most recognizable logo — a red, white and blue skull — and an altered lyric from the song “Truckin.”
What a long, strange road trip it’s been.
“It’s not a bad thing,” Heinze said. “It’s just a statement, saying that this has been a long, strange trip. It doesn’t matter if we’re at home or on the road, something new comes up every day.”