‘It’s not the tools, it's the carpenter’: Hockey through the eyes of Michigan’s equipment manager
The dull whir of the skate sharpening machine sets a fitting background noise.
Masked up in an empty Yost Ice Arena, Long-time Michigan hockey equipment manager Ian Hume sits at his desk, a wall of skates to his left. Before our interview can begin, a visitor arrives. Freshman forward Phillippe Lapointe enters the office, asking if his skates are done.
It’s a simple question, but there’s a lot more to it. Hume works with Lapointe to figure out how much extra steel he wants on his blades.
Though a simple interaction, Hume is doing what he does best: getting to know his players.
“Now I know where to start with him and we'll go from there,” Hume said. “It's kind of a feel thing. I'll make a couple of adjustments and try to get him dialed in.”
Hume is a hockey guy through and through. He grew up in Canada, and like many Canadians, hockey was his lifeblood.
“When I was growing up as a kid, there were two seasons; it was hockey and road hockey,” Hume said. “You played road hockey when the snow went away and when the snow came back we were in the rinks or outdoor rinks or ponds or whatever. It was just hockey, hockey, hockey.”
Hume got on Michigan’s radar by working in junior leagues in Ontario, an area in which Michigan recruited heavily. There, he got to know former coach Red Berenson, and after getting married, he and his wife moved to Ann Arbor, where he kept in touch with Berenson.
Then, he literally walked into a job.
“I just happened to walk in (to Yost) one day in July and they were doing a kids hockey camp,” Hume said. “I knew Red pretty well by that point and I just walked in to see how he was doing and he said ‘You couldn't have come in here on a worse day.’ ”
Berenson had just seen multiple assistants, his video guy and his equipment manager leave the program for the University Illinois at Chicago’s hockey team. Ironically, that program no longer exists.
Berenson asked Hume if he was still looking for a job and Hume told him he was. He was offered the equipment manager position on the spot.
“He cleared it with administration and 31 years later I'm still here,” Hume said. “So I owe where I am and all my experiences; I owe that to coach Berenson.”
Hume was on Berenson’s coaching staff for nearly his entire tenure, and he stayed on when head coach Mel Pearson took over in 2017.
“Red wasn't necessarily negative, but I would say that Red was old school.” Hume said. “(Mel’s) different then coach Berenson. He wants it to be fun for the players and I think he wants it to be fun for us. There can be enough negativity when people aren't playing well, and so it's pretty easy. He likes to be very positive.”
Hume’s official role is to handle all the equipment-related tasks. He’s in charge of getting all the jerseys, pads, helmets, decals and anything else you could think of ready for the players. The process to pack all of that up for a road game is relatively easy. What takes a while is gathering and replacing the extra equipment that travels with the team all season — including five sticks per player for a road trip.
“We take enough stuff so that if there's a problem, we've usually got it covered,” Hume said.
Talking to him, it's clear that he’s so much more than just the equipment manager. Hume has an open-door policy, and whether players want to talk about equipment adjustments or are just tired of coaching and want to chat, Hume is there.
“(Hockey’s) the longest college season. It's a long grind from when you start in September and you don't end sometimes until mid April,” Hume said. “It may not be physically demanding as far as the number of games you play, but you're practicing and it mentally can wear you out. So you get guys that come in and shoot the breeze about whatever.”
Through those conversations, Hume has gotten to know a lot of players in the program in his three decades at Michigan. He’s noticed a trend. The less tinkering a player does, the more success they usually have.
“One of our sayings is it's not the tools, it's the carpenter,” Hume said. “Most guys are pretty good, but some guys are finicky and they don't need to be.”
Former Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes exemplified this. Hughes had an incredible career at Michigan and continued to perform in his first year in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks. He piled up 43 assists and is a finalist for the Calder Trophy — awarded to the top rookie each year.
This instant success was no surprise to Hume. Hughes went through very few sticks and just wanted his skates to be kept sharp.
“(He) was literally no maintenance,” Hume said. “The kid just wants to play.”
At this point, Hume has seen it all. Even in a pandemic, he’s still going into work, checking in on his players and keeping everyone’s skates sharpened — extra steel and all. But it's not really about the equipment. It's that every guy on the Wolverines can come in and talk to Hume about anything. It's been that way for 31 years.
“Teams can change, personnel can change, people can change,” Hume said. “But it’s the relationships you build that last forever. I think that’s what's unique about hockey.”