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From the Ice to the Stands, Fassbender Keeps USA Hockey Arena Shipshape

08/01/2018, 3:00pm EDT
By Greg Bates

As facility manager, much of his work is behind the scenes

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- It’s gameday. Time for Paul Fassbender to shine.

The season opener for the U.S. National Under-18 Team means Fassbender is going to have a busy Friday at USA Hockey Arena.

What Fassbender and his co-workers do is all the behind the scenes work. The fans streaming into the rink rarely even think about it.

The ice is perfectly managed and the corners are shaved. The seats in the bowl are clean. The aisles are mopped. The arena’s new History Wall leading into the rink is glistening. The lightshow prior to the puck drop goes off without a hitch.

All those aspects of gameday are performed by Fassbender, who is the facility manager, along with a nine-person facility crew.

“We always say we’re the glorified janitors of the building — do everything, get recognition for nothing,” Fassbender joked.

“You’d be surprised what we do.”

The job involves everything from keeping the ice pristine to changing a light bulb in the hallway. Fassbender, 46, estimates 60 percent of his job is non-ice-related functions.

“With the amount of ice usage we have with the two junior teams, to have someone as smart as Paul and as educated as Paul on the ice quality is big,” said Mike Henry, general manager of USA Hockey Arena. “So, to bring him on board definitely elevates us to where we want to be in the rink business.”

Fassbender was the assistant facilities manager at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube — the former home of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program — for 14 years until USA Hockey bought Compuware Arena in 2015 and renamed it USA Hockey Arena.

When the NTDP moved, so did Fassbender.

“We ended up bringing him in for ice quality, but he’s so efficient at it that we get to utilize him in other areas around the building, too, which is wonderful,” Henry said.

Fassbender really enjoys working at USA Hockey Arena, which is a different capacity from his old job. At the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, the rink was maintained more like a city rink with figure skating, rental groups coming in and plenty of youth games. At USA Hockey Arena, the focus is on the USA Hockey teams.

“It’s higher profile and they expect everything a little bit better, a little bit nicer,” said Fassbender, whose boss, Tony Noble, the assistant general manager, has been working at the arena for 16 years. “You try to pay a little bit more attention to detail with a job.”

Fassbender takes pride in keeping the facility looking top-notch.

“They’re kind of our anchor for the whole building,” said Henry about Fassbender and the crew. “Anytime anyone needs anything done around here, they seem to get it done, whether it’s an NTDP game, commencements in the spring, a drive-in movie theatre.”

Gameday Preparation

It might be hectic getting prepared on gameday, but the crew is a well-oiled machine.

Fassbender gets to the arena about 6 or 7 a.m., and is joined by two of his crew members. When the Under-18 Team hosted Miami University in its season opener on Oct. 13, Fassbender had prepped the night before, cleaning some of the glass on the sheet of ice.

Fassbender and crew meticulously scrub out the scratches. Two years ago, USA Hockey switched to acrylic plexiglass, which is harder to break, but a lot more difficult to get out scuff marks.

“The big focus on gamedays is taking care of the glass and getting it cleaned up,” Fassbender said. “That’s about a two-hour process.”

That Friday morning of the opener, Miami had an on-ice practice followed by the U.S., so Fassbender knew the crew couldn’t do ice maintenance until 1:30 p.m. But then the ice was clear until game time. Fassbender takes out an edger onto the ice and shaves down the corners and cleans up the edges. He notes that’s what builds up the fastest on the ice. After some dry and regular cuts, the ice is ready for game action at about 3 p.m. Then it’s time to move on to other duties. Around 4 p.m., four or five crewmembers clock in to work.

“We’ll have people going through all the seats, making sure they’re working and not broken,” Fassbender said. “Setting up all our stuff in the corners for emergencies, mop buckets, setting up all our gameday stuff, spotlights. A little bit later we’ll set up all our new pregame lightshow, we just got that in yesterday.”

The afternoon crew cleans the exterior of the glass (on the fans’ side), sweeps and mops the corners of the facility, the tunnels and locker rooms. When the night group gets in, it goes through all the bathrooms, walks around the whole bowl, makes sure all the seats are in good shape and prepares any of the arena’s four suites for guests.

By the time the puck drops, Fassbender is usually already home. A facility person is always on hand for games, which is usually Fassbender’s boss, Noble.

Fassbender really enjoys his job and the variety. It helps that he’s a big hockey fan, who also coaches the sport. He can’t imagine doing anything else.

“It gets overwhelming at times, but it’s nice because it’s not the same thing,” Fassbender said. “I tell those guys [the front office staff], I could never sit in that front office and stare at a computer all day, there’s no way. I do about 15,000 to 20,000 steps a day. There’s always something to do.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc

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