Equipment manager fills backstage role

Bockenstedt is the equipment manager for the women’s hockey, swimming and diving and tennis teams.

Equipment manager Kate Bockenstedt sharpens skates before practice in Ridder Arena on Monday. She sets aside around  an hour every day to maintain the skates for the whole team.

Emily Dunker

Equipment manager Kate Bockenstedt sharpens skates before practice in Ridder Arena on Monday. She sets aside around an hour every day to maintain the skates for the whole team.

by Betsy Helfand

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team is ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Gophers are the defending national champions and currently undefeated.

But more people contribute to their success than the group of players who hit the ice.

Kate Bockenstedt is one of them.

You’ll likely never see her in action, but the eighth-year equipment manager for the women’s hockey team is always there to fill an important role for the Gophers.

“We’re really fortunate because she’s very, very good at her job,” head coach Brad Frost said.

Frost said Bockenstedt’s work helps players perform at their best in practice and in games.

“Unfortunately, when you’re 18, 19, 20 years old, you don’t always realize how fortunate you are to have somebody like Kate serving you in that way,” Frost said.

Bockenstedt also serves as the equipment manager for the swimming and diving team and the tennis teams.

But she spends more time with women’s hockey because it’s the most “equipment intensive” of the sports, she said.

A major part of her job is sharpening skates, a skill Bockenstedt learned in her days of playing college hockey.

She played hockey at Concordia College and was tasked with sharpening her teammates’ skates.

“I was consistent. They were having the rink staff do it, and it was really all over the board,” Bockenstedt said. “My coach was like, ‘You’re going to do it,’ so I said ‘OK.’”

She said she liked the job and was paid for it. Her teammates’ reactions suggested she was better at it than she gives herself credit for.

“They wouldn’t let anyone else touch their skates, which is actually funny because I probably wasn’t very good [at it] in college,” she said.

She said her teammates at Concordia College were “way worse” about their equipment than the 2012-13 Gophers, who she described as “pretty easy going as long as it’s consistent.”

Frost said Bockenstedt’s longevity with the team benefits him because the two know how each other operates.

“She keeps her head down and keeps plowing away and does a really good job for our kids,” Frost said.

“A thankless job”

On a typical home-game day, Bockenstedt gets to the arena around 9 a.m. before the visiting team takes its morning skate.

She said she sharpens anywhere from eight to 14 pairs of skates before a home game.

A typical pair of skates takes her anywhere from five to 10 minutes to sharpen, but that number depends on many factors.

“Some rinks are a little grittier than others, and the skates will get banged up,” she said.

She also said players who are “a little rougher” tend to need their skates sharpened more often.

On game day, Bockenstedt has a student worker help with laundry after the games, which cuts down on her hours.

She said most WCHA teams have full-time equipment managers, but it’s less common on the East Coast.

Her other duties include ordering uniforms, setting up the locker rooms and making quick repairs to equipment, among other tasks.

Bockenstedt handles midgame repairs as well, including broken skates and uniform issues.

“You might just do a quick repair to get them through the period,” she said, “but some stuff you just can’t fix.”

Junior captain Bethany Brausen said Bockenstedt is always prepared to help midgame.

“She always seems more than ready and apt to jump the gun and fix what we need,” Brausen said.

Frost said he thinks Bockenstedt fills “a thankless job at times because every day she’s doing something for our team.”

Brausen said she tries to make Bockenstedt’s job easier by being low maintenance.

Very superstitious

In general, hockey players are known to be superstitious and follow a routine. Bockenstedt said that makes her job “pretty predictable” on a week-to-week basis.

“I could probably tell you who is going to put their skates out on which day,” she said. “It’s pretty much the same every week.”

She said some former players were picky, but those types of players are rare.

Freshman forward Hannah Brandt said she didn’t personally have any nitpicky habits, but some of her teammates won’t let their stick touch the ground until it hits the ice after it’s been taped. If it does touch, sometimes Bockenstedt has to re-tape sticks for the Gophers, Brandt said.

New threads

The Gophers change their jerseys every three years. This year, their alternate jersey was due for a change.

Bockenstedt stayed mum on the details of the new alternate jerseys, saying the design was Frost’s “pet project.”

She only revealed that it would be gold and that the team was trying to establish a tradition with the new jerseys.