INDEPENDENCE, MO – Define the undefinable. Categorize something that can’t be categorized by even the most obsessive-compulsive person. Describe a job that is literally indescribable.
One day you’re a travel planner, the next a master tailor, the next working with sharp blades and the next you’re doing laundry. Only, put that into one day, one evening, one game. Your clientele is simply twenty young players and they’re all dependent upon you to be successful.
Stress is simply what you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; but, the thrill of knowing that you have contributed something so important to each and every win, each and every goal, and inevitably each and every milestone drives the urge to get up and do it all over again.
For Andrew Dvorak, Kansas City Mavericks equipment manager, this is his reality. Performing a job that according to him, has no job description, Andrew is the engine behind the Mavericks machine and develops solutions to every cog that machine endures. From sticks, skates, jerseys, socks, pads, helmets, and gloves; hockey players are a little different breed of athlete in that each of them has very personal preferences on how their equipment performs. The job of the equipment manager entails making sure each of those players performs at their highest level and that their equipment is in good working order at all times. For that to happen on the ice, it requires hours of preparation off of it.
For Dvorak, it all began as a stick boy in his native Florida with the Orlando Jackals of Roller Hockey International. Through networking within the tight-knit confines of the equipment manager fraternity, Dvorak moved into full-time equipment work very quickly. Working with teams in Orlando (Jackals and the Solar Bears) began a maze of moves along the east coast as minor league hockey is a fickle animal. Other managers that Andrew encountered and worked with/for, opened numerous opportunities down the road for the young equipment aficionado. Jacksonville would be the next stop for Dvorak before heading to Miami briefly. He would then find his first true “home” in Richmond. While there, Andrew would find his true love, his wife, Shannon. As the stress level of fluid employment increased, she would become his constant encouragement to continue on in the grueling profession.
Following a phone call from Scott Hillman and a meeting with Brent Thiessen, Dvorak landed in his new home, Independence, Missouri. The opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a brand new franchise in the Central Hockey League became a dream come true and the rest is history in the making.
To put it into numbers, Dvorak reached the 1,000 game mark this year and is the only person to witness every single minute of Mavericks hockey since the franchise’s inception in 2009.
Every. Single. Minute.
It’s an unbelievable accomplishment that no one else in the history of the Mavericks will ever be able to say. Andrew has become part of the glue that holds the franchise together through coaching changes, hundreds of players, numerous road trips, broken sticks, skate issues, blood, sweat, and tears. It is no small task and the weak at heart won’t last long in this profession. Yet, Andrew does it with a smile — more like a mischievous grin — a small shake of the head and professionalism.
In a profession that is built on relationships, Dvorak has become a sounding board for coaches and management. That trust factor has led to an increase in his involvement with team travel planning, arranging apartments, picking up basic household items for player apartments, and acting as a liaison between players and coaches. To write a job description would be a waste of one’s time because this profession is ever-changing from one day (sometimes one minute) to the next. When you arrive in your next town on your road trip at two or three in the morning, there are things to be done. When you finish a home game and a new team is coming in for a game the following night, your responsibility is to not only get your own things done for your team, but to also be a gracious host for the new team and be there when they arrive at whatever random hour of the morning they roll in. Anyone seeking a regular nine to five, need not apply.
Once you get past the duties assigned on any given day, there are relationships to be built with players on and off the ice. The Mavericks, like most teams, have a way they operate things within the locker room and it is Dvorak’s job to make sure that all players, veterans and newcomers, know the protocol for the Mavericks locker room. He is quick to point out that a player like Andrew Courtney, who spent his entire career with the Mavericks, is easy to work with because he never encountered another locker room system at the professional level other than the Mavericks. But, once that respect factor is earned, players over the years have adored their guy that keeps them equipped with whatever they need to get their job done at the highest possible level and Andrew has mutual respect for the players that he has worked with.
Like any job, there are challenges to overcome. Don’t believe me? Try stitching Dieude-Fauvel on the back of a hockey jersey and let me know how that goes for you. Figure out how many sticks Rocco Carzo is going to break on any given night so you have enough available. Anticipate where guys are going to be injured and come up with inventive ways to protect those areas with pads that don’t exist from any manufacturer. It’s the newness of each day and the unpredictability that make Dvorak’s job so incredibly interesting and exciting. The fact that he does it so well led to an unfathomable season for the young father.
In addition to taking part in his 1,000th game as a Maverick, Dvorak was also given a lifetime achievement award by the Mavericks organization at the annual Mac awards and was named ECHL Equipment Manager of the Year by his colleagues. That’s quite an achievement in only the Mavericks third season in the ECHL, but obviously, one that is well deserved.
“I was nice enough to 51%”, Dvorak said with a laugh. “It’s a great honor, obviously, but you’re just doing your job. When I vote for that award, I think about the places I’ve been to during the year that have taken care of us and gone that extra step. So, it makes me feel good that they’ve seen that little extra you do to make it comfortable. We don’t want them to be too comfortable, but I do it the same way I expect it to be done on the road; where I don’t have to ask for anything.”
With a job that few could handle, and many fail at, the Mavericks have to consider themselves lucky to have one of the absolute best standing on their bench each and every game.
To have the respect of coaches, management, players, the opposition, and the fans, is a high honor to achieve by any man, but for Dvorak, it’s simply going to work and doing your job to the best of your ability. By setting your standards high and working to promote the “Mavericks” way of doing things, Andrew has set himself apart in his field of work and Mavericks fans should consider themselves lucky to have him in their corner. Andrew has seen more Mavericks history than anyone else from his perch at the end of the bench. Players and coaches have come and gone, but he has remained the constant for the Mavericks organization.
The man behind the scenes has graduated to the forefront.