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A day at the Garden

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  January 20, 2009 11:17 AM

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Through words, photos and video, Mazz tells the story of Monday's Garden doubleheader -- Bruins vs. Blues and Celtics vs. Suns -- from the perspective of those who made it all happen.

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On Monday, not long after 9 a.m. at the TD Banknorth Garden, the Bruins locker room was braced for a storm. Jerseys dangled in the stalls. Sticks were aligned along the equipment room wall. A goaltender's pads were propped upright in front of a bench, like sofa pillows recently fluffed.

Just beyond a corner doorway, there was a soft but unmistakable buzz.

"Fourteen out of 20," Bruins equipment manager Mark Dumas (pictured) said over the whir of a circular blade when asked how many pairs of skates he typically sharpens on game days. "Some guys, you do every game. I've got all the routines down. I know who likes 'em [sharpened] and who doesn't. I try to establish what their routines are during training camp. That way, when they come in, they can worry about their jobs."

And so this is how a busy day began on Causeway Street -- sparks literally flying as the revitalized Bruins prepared for a Martin Luther King Day matinee against the downtrodden St. Louis Blues. This is where the Bruins prepared to put the rubber to the road -- or, more specifically, the steel to the ice -- with the 46-year-old Dumas heading a staff of three (including his son, Mark Dumas II) that takes care of so many of the tasks that sports enthusiasts might refer to as "the little things".

Bruins equipment manager Mark DumasA Bruins employee since the start of the 1984-85 season, Dumas has sharpened the skates of everyone from Middleton (Rick) to Norton (Jeff). He has ordered sticks for everyone from Butch Goring, now 59, to Milan Lucic, 21. Dumas knows (and respects) the quirks of Bruins players the way a wife might know the color of her husband's toothbrush, some of which Dumas will share, others of which he will not.

"I think they've all got their routines," Dumas said. "[Marc] Savard will come in and hang his jersey by the goalie's stall, check his skates, and then work on his sticks for about an hour."

Dumas has routines, too, all of them predicated on the starting time of the game, whether it's at 7 p.m. (usually) or 1 p.m. (Monday). In anticipation of the afternoon affair with the Blues, Dumas woke up at about 4:30 a.m. and was at the team's practice facility (the Ristuccia Center in Wilmington) by 5:30. Because the Bruins have had a recent rash of injuries that triggered the promotion of several minor leaguers -- "They don't have two sets of gear yet," Dumas said -- Dumas picked up equipment and headed to the Garden, where he arrived at 6:15.

By 9 or 9:30, Savard is among the first players to arrive, while Dumas and Son, along with Keith Robinson, have placed game jerseys in the lockers of each player. The equipment of goaltender Tim Thomas waits at his station. Blades have been sharpened and there is nary a speck on the locker room floor, a combination of gray carpet and rubber on which a replica of the Garden ice is drawn, right down to the colorful, spoked B that rests in the center of the room and has drawn them all together.

As game time approaches, the room grows crowded. Dumas is among those who welcome everyone from P.J. Axelsson to Zdeno Chara, the latter of whom typically goes through 14 to 16 pairs of skates in a season, roughly four times more than the average player. The 6-foot-9-inch, 260-pound Chara is so big and heavy that he wears through skates the way a door-to-door salesman might have run through shoes, even in an age when foot care has become a science.

"He's got one of the best skates out there in terms of support -- the Bauer 195s," said Dumas.
"But he still goes right through 'em."

Other than an equipment manager privy to the secrets of an athlete, who could possibly know such a thing?

Stuck singing the blues
In Winchester, just a short drive up Interstate 93 from the Garden, Erin and Marc Capomaccio arrived at the home of her brother, Dave Rogers, roughly around noon. Along with Rogers's girlfriend, Katelyn Suchcicki, the four drove in for the Monday matinee, parked at a nearby lot, and took their seats in Section 330, Row 15, Seats 16-19, not far off center ice in the last row of the Garden balcony.

Once there, the brother, sister and significant others hung their coats on the plastic, adhesive hooks that some of the most devout fans (the new Gallery Gods?) have stuck to the uppermost walls of the building.

"I went to one game last year," said Rogers, who bought the seats from a ticket broker as a gift for his sister and brother-in-law. "I think that was the only game I'd been to in a number of years, but I've been to three this year."

Inspired by the Bruins' renaissance, perhaps?

"There's a lot more energy, a lot more people," Rogers said, nodding. "It's a lot louder."

A few hours later, long after Dumas began his day and the Bruins have dressed and taken the ice, the home team faced a 2-1 deficit with slightly more than six minutes to go in what generally had been a lackluster performance. For the large majority of this game, the Boston skates have not seemed so sharp. But with 6:18 to play, Blues forward Dan Hinote was issued a two-minute penalty for elbowing Savard, a development that grew in magnitude only seconds later.

With the Bruins on a power play and pressing in the St. Louis end, Blues forward David Backes committed the additional blunder of cross-checking Bruins forward Michael Ryder, though the penalty officially was called hooking. Regardless, the grateful Bruins promptly took a two-man advantage, an edge they efficiently turned into a 3-2 lead with power-play goals by Ryder and Axelsson a mere 19 seconds apart.

From Row 15 of Section 330 down to the Garden ice, the building quivered with energy and noise. The Bruins extended the lead to 4-2 before the Blues just as improbably scored twice in the final 1:20 -- the tying goal was scored by Backes on a forehand volley with a whisker more than a second left -- leading to an eventual 5-4 St. Louis shootout win in perhaps the most hectic five minutes of hockey played in the Garden this year.

Though the Bruins earned a point, they came away unfulfilled.

"We have to be smarter," said goaltender Tim Thomas, the frustration apparent on his face. "We have to finish off the game."

By then, Rogers, Suchcicki, and the Capomaccios have filed out of the building with the remaining 17,565 in attendance, the large majority sharing the sentiments of the agitated Bruins goalie.

Shift change

After the Bruins game, the bull gang placed a sub floor in place over the ice. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
After the Bruins game, the bull gang placed a sub floor in place over the ice. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
As swiftly as the Garden emptied, the Bruins locker room did the same. Players showered, dressed, and filed out, following reporters who had just inquired about the Bruins comeback -- and collapse. Mark Dumas again has packed up the gear of the recent Bruins additions and piled them into (and onto) what looks like and old, industrial-type laundry cart, then headed back to the Ristuccia Center in Wilmington.

Just down the hall, directly across from where the Blues have similarly packed up their belongings, equipment manager John Connor was among the select group of Celtics employees allowed into the building early to prepare for Monday night's game between the Celtics and Phoenix Suns.

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner from the Celtics locker room, in the area where the Zamboni typically makes its entrance and exit from the Garden ice, Jaoa Rebelo was overseeing the transformation of the Garden from a hockey rink into a basketball arena with the "bull gang," a group consisting mostly of part-time employees who cover (and uncover) the ice, take down (and put up) the glass, lay down (and pick up) the famed parquet floor. Rebelo seemed not the slightest bit concerned about the venture into overtime and ensured that the scheduled 8 p.m. starting time of a nationally televised NBA game would not be in jeopardy.

"We can get it done in about 2 1/2 hours," said Rebelo, 48, the event production manager at the Garden since 1995. "[The Bruins game] was done at about 3:55. I'm going to say it's going to take a little longer [than 2 1/2 hours] today because the boys are a little tired. It's been a long weekend."

After the rink was deconstructed and the sub floor placed over the ice, members of the bull gang pieced together the famed Celtics playing surface -- the parquet. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
After the rink was deconstructed and the sub floor placed over the ice, members of the bull gang pieced together the famed Celtics playing surface -- the parquet. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
Though the Bruins and Celtics typically have one or two "doubleheaders" a year -- the Friday after Thanksgiving is traditionally one of them -- the weekend on Causeway Street was unusually hectic. On Saturday night, the Boston Blazers played an indoor lacrosse game on the Garden surface, requiring Rebelo and his crew to cover the ice with FieldTurf. On Sunday, in anticipation of that night's Metallica concert, the turf came up and a concert floor went down. Immediately after the concert, Rebelo and his staff uncovered the ice and prepared for Monday's hockey.

By the time the Celtics were getting ready to take to the floor, the "bull gang" was executing its third changeover in roughly 48 hours, from lacrosse to heavy metal to hockey to hoops.

Not far from where Rebelo was standing, Garden director of public relations Tricia McCorkle marveled as the crew, as always, had the surface ready for action at roughly 6:15 p.m., just inside of the hours Rebelo had promised.

"This weekend has truly run the gamut," McCorkle said quite succinctly.

House party
In retrospect, the most efficient use of time Monday would have come between roughly 3:30 and 8:30 p.m., that most eventful five-hour block at the Garden. During that period, a stowaway in the building could have seen everything from the final seven minutes in regulation played by the Bruins, the first seven minutes played by the Celtics, and the fire drill in between. In the end, nothing else mattered.

Perhaps feeding off the energy generated in the final stages of the Bruins game, the Celtics raced to a 9-2 lead against the Suns and rumbled to a 23-9 advantage slightly less than seven minutes into play. The rest of the game was largely a training exercise en route to Boston's 104-87 victory. The Suns trailed by a whopping 64-34 margin at halftime, by which point most of the remaining energy understandably had been sapped from the building.

In Section 330, Row 15, seats 16-19 were no longer occupied by a foursome as much as they accommodated two pairs. At the end of the row were Lelia Pascale, 28, and Bob Cronan, 30, the former of whom bought tickets as a Christmas gift for her adjacent boyfriend. ("I didn't think I bought the last row," Pascale said almost apologetically, Cronan promptly reassuring her that he "didn't care.") Next to them were Jack Woods and Chuck Feeley, the latter of whom is a season-ticket holder -- at least in part.

"Me and three other buddies bought for the season [during the summer of 2007]," said Feeley, 29, of Holbrook. "We bought 'em the night they traded for [Kevin] Garnett last year."

As for Woods?

"Jack got lucky because my [13-year-old] son didn't finish his homework today," said Feeley. "That's why he's here. Make sure you put that in the paper -- so my son sees it."

On the floor below, much to the delight of coach Doc Rivers, the Celtics never relented in their dismantling of the Suns en route to their fifth straight victory. The Garden had long since emptied again when Garnett made his customary entrance into a makeshift conference room used for postgame media briefings, and one could only wonder how Feeley might have reacted had he seen Garnett's performance in the interview room.

There, as on the floor, the centerpiece of the Celtics was typically entertaining.

"Go home and knock out the foundation of your house, then hold up the wall. That's what it's like guarding Shaq," an animated Garnett said emphatically when asked about the experience of guarding Shaquille O'Neal on a night when Kendrick Perkins (shoulder) was unavailable to play.

For effect, as always, Garnett began repeating himself.

"Go home and knock out the foundation. Just knock it out," Garnett said, his voice continuing to rise. "Then hold up the side of your house. In fact, hold it up for 48 minutes."

As the room exploded with laughter, Garnett lowered his head.

Beside him, even Paul Pierce could not restrain a smile.

Closing time
Like Dumas before him, Connor's work took place in the Celtics locker room before, during, and after the events on the court. Following every game, Celtics equipment personnel wash the uniform of every player so that things are in order for the next home game. The Bruins own the building, after all, and so the basketball team's access is more restricted, particularly on days like Monday, when the traffic in and out of the Garden can create historic gridlock.

Based purely on logistics Monday, the Celtics and Suns could not enter until the Blues departed. Some Celtics employees who arrived at Garden had to wait outside the building, through the overtime, until the arena cleared. One hallway serves as the main artery off which the locker rooms of all teams (home and away) are stationed, and it was in that hall where Dumas entered and departed, where Connor did the same, where Garnett and Chara all but matched footsteps, where hockey referees gave way to basketball referees and Rivers greeted everyone from Reggie Miller and Cheryl Miller to Suns coach Terry Porter and visiting players Grant Hill and Amar'e Stoudemire.

Where, in the course of one seemingly endless day, the Garden foundation was all but knocked out and rebuilt, and the walls held up for far longer than 48 minutes.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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