Equipment managers are perhaps the most underrated and vital members of a hockey team. A good one you never notice; a bad one can ruin you.
That is why when teams have the ability to hire a quality equipment manager, they do so in a heartbeat. Take Mercyhurst, which has Mike Folga on board. Folga might be then only person on an NCAA bench outside of Massachusetts assistant Red Gendron to own a Stanley Cup ring. He served over 10 successful years with the New York Rangers.
The uniqueness of that position demands that the person who fills it know how to do everything. From the simplest aspect of the job (I couldn’t begin to figure out what about that job is simple) in college hockey to the hardest (which is catering to the unique needs of 25-30 players, and four coaches), the person in it is there for simple reasons. They love the game, they love the players, and they love being around college student-athletes.
A new face has become part of that fraternity this season. Steve Castelletti begins his first season with Wisconsin’s men’s hockey program fresh off a 21-year stint as a member of the criminal investigative staff of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Imagine that — a retired U.S. Marshal now sharpening skates in Madison. I have had several equipment managers in my time in professional hockey, and none ever told me they took the job as a stress release from their regular job. Steve Castelletti did, and once he did I needed to hear more about someone who once protected the offspring of the Jordanian royal family while they were attending school in the United States.
“I deal well with stress,” Castelletti told me as we sat in his office in early October. “I have a type A personality. I’m not the type of person who sits around and does nothing. I’m around nice people now, and this is a pleasure.”
The morning we chatted was the same day in which eight hours later the Badgers would raise their 2006 championship banner before their WCHA home opener against rival North Dakota. Amid the swirl of excitement and chaos associated with such a big day, Castelletti was calm. Sweaters were hung, laundry was done ahead of schedule, and a line of skates needing to be sharpened to the specifications and nuances of each individual player waited.
However, Castelletti invited me into his world to discuss his past glory, and desire for a career which, as he emphasizes, is filled “with nice people.” You get the feeling that the long hours are not the burden like the ones he had put in chasing criminals, protecting embassies in hostile territory, or protecting the family of a Middle Eastern king.
He enjoys this. He can’t wait to get to the rink and be around this team. For a program whose patriarch, “Badger” Bob Johnson, coined the phrase “It’s a great day for hockey,” Castelletti couldn’t be in a more perfect place.
USCHO.com staffer Todd Milewski, who covers the Badgers in Madison, told me about Steve. “Dave,” he said, “you have to meet this guy. He’s like you, born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island, and is working in hockey full-time. You’ll love this guy.”
When you meet him, there is a lot to like, starting with the incredible background he comes from. A former high school hockey player in Patchouge, NY, Steve joined the U.S. Marines and served at many U.S. Embassies abroad. Through them, he met several Secret Service employees, and wound up with an introduction to the King of Jordan. King Hussein hired him and several others to “bunk” with his kids at prestigious American schools, and had them back in Jordan during the summers.
“They offered me a job over there after the kids finished school, but the political climate for an American wasn’t great.”
Steve spent some time at the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland, where his love of hockey continued to grow. Meeting an equipment manager over there, he began to learn the tool of the trade that are so valuable to a team’s success both on and off ice. Those skills were packed up with him and returned to the US after he returned home, having been hired by the U.S. Marshal Service.
Starting in Fairbanks, Alaska (where he worked with the minor-league Alaska Gold Kings), and then in Cedar Rapids with the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids Rough Riders, Steve spent his vacation time and spare time working with those teams. Additionally, he found some time to work with the St. Louis Blues for eight years during training camp and the playoffs. It was through the Blues, whose staff assisted Badger head coach Mike Eaves during Team USA’s time at the World Championships, that the connection was made between Steve and the Badgers.
“We moved some people around this summer, and we needed an equipment manager, and we were set to interview several people,” said Eaves. “When we heard about his background and passion for hockey, we knew we had to talk to him.”
Eaves did, and did he ever walk away impressed.
“An equipment manager spends a lot of time with the young men on the team,” said Eaves, from his refurbished office at the Kohl Center. “Imagine what Steve can convey to our players about life. Imagine what he can do to help mold these guys into better people.”
There is a fine line between Hollywood and reality when it comes to what actually happens in chasing fugitives from justice. In the movie “The Fugitive,” starring Harrison Ford as a escaped convict looking to prove his innocence on a bum murder rap, one gets a close look into the process of capturing what would be called a “top 15” case. Those on the top 15 on the Marshal’s list would also be on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list.
“You’re chasing a top 15 guy, then that movie is pretty accurate,” said Castelletti. “You have all the resources at your disposal. Helicopters, personnel, etc. … it’s all there for you. Remember, the Marshal Service doesn’t only work Federal fugitives, they have the most jurisdiction of all federal agencies, so they’ll deputize FBI guys in some pursuits. However, they are the investigative arm of the Federal government. The Marshal Service strictly works witness protection program, fugitives, and threats to the Federal judiciary.”
Since 9/11, a day that saw Badgers assistant coach Kevin Patrick lose a brother in one of the World Trade Center towers, Castelletti says that his former agency became an ever bigger arm in the pursuit of keeping America safe. Whether it be the Federal drug task force, or the FBI terrorism task force, his colleagues are directly involved.
That is all behind him now. In front of him are the needs of a program that captured a national championship last season. His office is a tribute to all of his stops in the past. That includes equipment that he has purchased on his own that he brought to Madison, a trademark of most equipment managers.
So a guy who used to chase the most dangerous people on the planet now chases down those little things that make a difference to the look of a big-time college hockey program.
“He’s an amazing guy,” said Eaves. “He has whatever we need in that office, and just the way he’s organized, how meticulous he is, the image he presents to our young people, he’s an asset to our program.”
When people say that Wisconsin looks good this year, stop and think for a minute if they are referring to the way Wisconsin is playing, or the manner in which they are equipped. Certainly Steve Castelletti will have a hand in both.
Hopefully for a long time to come.