By Jeff Gard/ Total Sports Quinte
There was a time Ryan Isbister never would have considered work in hockey.
Now after gaining locker room and equipment manager experience with local Ontario Junior Hockey League clubs, Isbister is now operating the rebranded Hangar Pro Shop at the Duncan McDonald Memorial Gardens in Trenton.
“I never watched hockey, never played hockey,” the Canadian Armed Forces veteran remarked.
Isbister served 19 years in the military and is open about his struggles with PTSD and depression. He sought new hobbies following his medical release in 2016 and at one point participated in a mental health course. He met another veteran who enjoyed playing hockey in his spare time.
Fast forward a couple of months and Isbister was invited to play for a Highway of Heroes team against Toronto Maple Leafs alumni during a charity game in Kingston. He lacked hockey-playing skills, but the Trenton Golden Hawks offered to train him as a goaltender. He played in the game and has memories to last a lifetime.
“I got scored on by Wendel Clark and all those former Toronto Maple Leafs,” he recalled.
Isbister enjoyed the experience, though military injuries prohibited him from playing hockey much longer. He joined the Golden Hawks as locker room manager, keeping it clean, doing laundry as well as other necessary tasks.
“Over time I started learning the skills of what it takes to be an equipment manager,” Isbister said.
When the emerging COVID-19 pandemic shut down the OJHL playoffs in 2020 and with the long wait for the league to return to action, Isbister continued learning in his spare time, with a big focus on improving his skate sharpening skills.
“I went to Guspro in Chatham which are the ones that make Blademaster skate sharpeners for NHL teams as well as the Trenton Golden Hawks and the Wellington Dukes,” he said. “I got some really cool customized training from them on certain techniques of skate sharpening and I just honed my skills in my spare time through the pandemic.”
Isbister went on to spend this past season as equipment manager for the Wellington Dukes. He took a lot of pride in the responsibilities of the role.
“There’s a lot behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t know. It’s not just sharpening skates and giving them sticks whenever they break,” he said. “I guess some need a certain profile done, maybe some don’t”. – every skater has their own unique sharpening on their skates on their blades so some of them need profiles and some of them need a different hollow of a sharpen – and then as well as if a rivet breaks on a skate you’ve got to fix that, give them laces, you’re fixing their gear, you’re sewing the socks, you’re sewing the jerseys and you’re also maintaining a very high standard of cleanliness within the locker room. You’re just in such a closed confined space and someone could catch a cold and you just want to make sure you’re having the cleanest possible locker room for the players just to keep them game ready all the time.”
Now back in Trenton, Isbister – a second-year graphic arts student with the Toronto Film School – was involved with the rebranding of the pro shop, which was formerly known as the Trenton Golden Hawks Pro Shop. With the Duncan McDonald Memorial Gardens often referred to as The Hangar, that name also made sense for the pro shop, Isbister thought.
“This means it’s a community orientated type of pro shop rather than just a specific team because we have the Quinte West Golden Hawks, we’ve got the Trenton Golden Hawks so it’s something different, but something everyone can recognize, “ Isbister said.
Skate sharpening is available for hockey, but not figure skating, although plans are in place for that to happen.
“We’re not there yet, but we will advance pretty soon. There’s a strong figure skating community within Quinte West,” Isbister said.
The Hangar Pro Shop is closed for the season but Isbister anticipates reopening at the beginning of August. Hockey accessories will be available as well as apparel, skate sharpening, repair services and equipment sanitation services.
As he moves forward at The Hangar, Isbister appreciates the Golden Hawks and Dukes giving him the opportunity to learn his own set of hockey skills. He loves the roles he’s been in, whether as equipment manager or running a pro shop, because he gets to see the up-and-coming hockey players of various ages working to achieve their goals and developing as players.
They are quick to thank him for giving them their best chance for success on the ice.
“That type of gratitude is why I am grateful to the teams of the OJHL and the skills they gave this veteran,” Isbister said.