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Penguins Olympians well-equipped for Sochi

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 10:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review File
Penguins head equipment manager Dana Heinze stacks packed bags ready to travel with the team to Philadelphia for the first game of the season against the Flyers Saturday afternoon.

Dana Heinze knows exactly how Sidney Crosby likes his skate blades cut.

This season that cut is three-quarters of an inch.

Crosby previously had skated with a blade cut at three-eighths inches — just like his fellow Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had while playing in the Kontinental Hockey League during the NHL lockout last season.

Heinze is the Penguins head equipment manager. He is not going to the Winter Olympics with Crosby, Malkin and five of their Penguins teammates.

Still, Heinze has spent the last six weeks making sure the Olympians' gear will leave nothing to be desired while in Sochi, Russia.

“It's important because they are my players,” Heinze said Thursday, when he received Team USA defenseman Brooks Orpik's Olympic skate boots from a manufacturer.

“I always want them to have what they want. They're still Penguins at the end of the day.”

Arguably nobody in the Penguins organization spends less time sleeping than Heinze and his assistants: Teddy Richards, Danny Kroll and Jon Taglianetti.

They always are the first and last team employees to leave where the Penguins are playing and practicing.

They work 12-hour (minimum) days in regular seasons. This one, though, includes the Olympics and another outdoor game — never easy on equipment staffs because of the alternate uniforms/practice gear.

“I'm not going to lie. The Olympics have been stressful because we have been preparing for Chicago as well,” Heinze said. “But I've been doing this a long time, so stress is second nature.”

Heinze is in his eighth season with the Penguins. A Johnstown native, he previously was the head equipment manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Complete devotion to players is required to gain the trust needed to best equip them, Heinze said.

The Penguins have one of the highest budgets for players' equipment among NHL teams, said winger Pascal Dupuis, who has played for three other franchises. Forward Chuck Kobasew, in his first season with the Penguins, said the club has a lot more equipment staff members than his previous four employers.

“If it makes sense, they get it for you,” Kobasew said. “Basically, it's something where if they don't have access to it, they try to make it happen.”

Famous among Penguins players for hanging signage at visiting arenas to create a home-like atmosphere, Heinze took it upon himself to oversee the Olympic equipment process. It was not part of his actual job.

While in Los Angeles last week, Heinze met with his Kings counterpart Darren Granger, who will be with Team Canada at the Olympics. Heinze aimed to instruct Granger on specifics regarding Crosby and fellow Canadian Olympian Chris Kunitz.

Heinze also sought approval from the Penguins to provide the players with extra face shields, tape rolls, underwear and skate laces.

He provided Malkin, Jussi Jokinen and Olli Maatta with black hockey bags because the one provided by their respective Olympic teams was sent directly to Sochi.

Players are responsible for getting their gear to Newark, N.J., from where it will be shipped to Sochi this weekend. Heinze spent the last few days trying to organize a truck that would deliver all the Olympians' equipment at once.

All of this is at the Penguins' expense, but Heinze said general manager Ray Shero happily authorized the extra spending.

The attention to skate-blade cuts, though, is all Heinze “being like I am.”

He recalled Malkin's return from the KHL last season, and the month they spent trying to figure out the cut of the blades he brought back from Russia. The cutting techniques in Russia were different — Heinze learned many blades were altered by hand, unlike machines used in North America — and Malkin eventually settled on the three-fourths cut he now uses.

That experience with Malkin convinced Heinze he needed to send pre-profiled steel blades with the Penguins' players to the Olympics. He included plastic blade holders on which are written the respective players' cut preferences.

“My job is the make sure they're comfortable,” Heinze said. “For me, that doesn't stop just because they won't be around me during the Olympics.”

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