As the Griffins’ equipment manager, Brad “Dogg” Thompson plays an important role in helping to prepare the players to excel every game.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Officially, Brad Thompson is the Griffins’ equipment manager. Unofficially, he is the team mom and chief cheerleader.
“I might be a halfway decent equipment guy to keep my job this long,” said Thompson, who is in his 16th season with the Griffins. “But at the end of the day, I play the roles of counselor, cheerleader and motivator, too.”
He’s called “Dogg” by the players, a nickname hung on him by former Griffins captain Ed Patterson in reference not only to Thompson’s appreciation of rapper Snoop Dogg, but also to his willingness to work like a dog.
“I have no problem with the long nights and all of the travel because it’s part of the job,” Thompson said. “I’m always working for the next day, looking forward to helping the players excel to the best of their ability.”
Thompson knows there is not a lot he can do to improve a player on the ice, but he can help them in other ways, whether it’s providing the the tools and equipment necessary to play the game to the best of their ability, or dispensing advice about life away from the rink.
“I say I can’t make you a better hockey player, but I can try to help make you a better person,” he said.
“Young players sometimes come in thinking they’re the coolest thing on earth. If they’re cocky, I’ll sit them down and tell them: ‘You’re a small fish in a big pond now and if you’re not careful, the whale is going to eat you.’ If you blow out your knee, then what are you?”
Thompson not only provides skates, sticks and shoulder pads, but also guidance in terms of how to be humble and how to respect their teammates and fans as well.
“I’m constantly evaluating guys, doing whatever I can to help them succeed,” he said. “I’m learning 20 different personalities and adapting to their needs. It’s learning what makes a guy tick and what he needs that ultimately helps me be a better equipment guy.”
For Thompson, there could be no better job.
“From being a punk when I was growing up to becoming an adult and finding something that I liked that wasn’t offered in school is the perfect job,” said Thompson, who was working part-time at Michigan National Ice Arena before he came to the Griffins at the start of their second season.
“My first year I made $9,000 as an assistant working 80 hours a week,” he said. “I worked for next to nothing, but I didn’t do this job for the money. I did it for the love of the game. To get to do this in my hometown makes it even better.”
After 16 years with the Griffins, Thompson insists that he has no aspirations of working in the NHL. “I’m happy here. The DeVos and Van Andel families have treated me well over the years and it’s the fulfillment of a childhood dream to be able to work with the Griffins.”
Thompson gets to work with the Red Wings organization during the preseason and postseason, which allows him to enjoy the best of both worlds. He earned a Stanley Cup ring in 2008 when he assisted Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
His biggest thrill? “The high point comes every year when training camp starts and I get to see the guys after the summer,” he said. “I’ve made so many friends over the years that just seeing the guys again is the high point.”
He has been invited to numerous weddings, whether it’s going to Las Vegas for Jamie Tardif or to Maine for Jimmy Howard. “If you go to the trouble to invite me, I’ll do my best to be there,” he said.
Tardif, who now plays for Providence in the AHL, is one of many ex-players with whom Thompson has remained close. “I probably talk to Jamie twice a week. I still talk to Jimmy and Joey MacDonald, too. I play hockey with Matt Ruchty.”
He counts former defenseman Travis Richards as one of his favorite Griffins, a veteran who never failed to show his appreciation when Thompson prepared his sticks before a game. “I try to take care of my guys the way I would want to be treated if I was a pro hockey player,” he said. “All I ever want in return is a ‘thanks,’ nothing more.”
From the first day that a player comes into the Griffins’ dressing room, Thompson does his best to relate to the guys, not for the sake of striking up a friendship, but to make sure that the player will be able to excel.
“If we win or lose, I’m pretty much the same guy,” he said. “But it’s not about me. It’s about helping the guys and figuring out what they might need to help this team win.”
His ultimate dream, he contends, is for the Griffins to claim a championship in his hometown.
“I don’t care if nobody in the city knows that we won. I’m going to walk around the city like I’m the king,” he said. “People will wonder why is that guy holding that trophy, but if we win, it’s giddyup, it’s my turn to party.”
An affirmed teetotaler, Thompson said he might he even try tasting a little bubbly.
“I’ve never drank in my whole life, but I might even have a shot of champagne,” he said. “After so many years without a championship, I would imagine it will taste pretty good.”