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Karnosky: Running hockey rentals is hard

When my family first moved to Houghton in the late summer of 1983, my parents, who did not grow up with the sport, but instead fell in love with it while falling in love with each other during their time at the University of Wisconsin, bought season tickets to Michigan Tech hockey games.

In that first year, I got to see Brett Hull play for Minnesota-Duluth, I also had the chance to see Tom Kurvers, Norm Maciver and Jim Johnson on that Bulldogs squad. Wisconsin had the likes of Tony Granato and David Maley. North Dakota featured Perry Berezan and Rick Zombo along with future Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin.

Michigan Tech played in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Bill Terry, Chris Cichocki, Brian Hannon and Mark Maroste were my heroes.

I discovered a love for hockey and wanted desperately to learn. At the tender age of 5, my parents put into action with the Copper Country Junior Hockey Association. In my two seasons of developing mites, I was not much to shake a stick at. In fact, I was more or less just taking up space on the ice. Some kids, like my brother, for instance, were skilled from the moment the puck first hit their stick in developing mites. I, as I already said, was not one of those kids.

My parents could recognize my shortcomings, even when I was not sure of them myself. My mother, who was a figure skating judge and later got into teaching, and my father got me into power skating lessons wherever, whenever they could. Eventually, my mother got me into figure skating as well, which I participated in until I was a sophomore in high school.

My skating improved, as did my game. As a second-year mite, I was one of the top players on my team. The next six years were spent playing travel hockey at the squirt, pee wee and bantam levels.

My skating became one of my biggest assets as I reached my second year of pee wees and was probably why I kept making travel teams despite not producing a lot of offense. In my second year of pee wees, that started to change as I opened the season with a hat trick in our first game. From there, I started to have some confidence with the puck that I had not had before.

In my first year of bantams, I ran into a situation where the team I was on needed defensemen, so I took it upon myself to learn the position. That year set up a lot of how my career moved after that year once I started playing hockey for fun, rather than to make it to the pros.

I had looks from teams like Ohio State when I was playing midget AAA out of Green Bay, but things never materialized for me as I suffered injuries and other issues with my career.

While I was in college, I changed majors at least twice and changed schools three times. I eventually settled on Michigan Tech and while I was studying chemistry, I met a professor who changed the course of my hockey career. I was looking to get back on the ice after taking a year off to heal from the punishment I had taken over midgets and a year playing club hockey at Lakeland College (now Lakeland University).

I met David Chesney at MTU and soon jumped on his skates on Sunday evenings at Dee Stadium. Chesney’s rental opened up doors for me with other Tech professors and employees who also skated. From there, I ran into a group of guys from Phi Kappa Tau in Hancock and we formed an intramural team for several years in both ice and floor hockey.

Eventually, Chesney reached a point where he was ready to step away from the game and move on to a passion project involving rebuilding boats. Needing a successor to carry on in his absence, he turned to me, not his best student (I believe I actually failed his class on quantitative analysis), but a passionate hockey player who built a rapport with him over the years.

I jumped at the chance to take over, thinking it would be easy.

It was not.

The first lesson I learned was that just assuming guys will keep doing things the same way they did before is a false expectation. You, the rental manager, need to communicate with them. You, the rental manager, need to inform them.

The second lesson I learned is that you can never have enough goaltenders. This one should go without saying, but I hate it when a goalie either does not communicate with me or tells me, as I am on my way to the rink for the rental, that they will not be making it. Then the scramble begins as I try to solve our goaltending issues while also tying my skates and making sure I have as even teams as I can make them.

The third, and perhaps most important lesson I learned, there is a sweet spot for the number of skaters on a rental. If you have between 8-12 skaters, there is way too much ice time to go around. If you have more than 20 skaters, someone is inevitably going to complain about not getting enough ice time.

The “perfect zone” for my rental is 16-20, in other words three-to-five on the bench. That way everyone has a chance to catch their breath on the bench and the speed of the rental stays higher longer than when there are so few skaters that everyone skates the entire hour.

On Sunday, we had just nine skaters, which was a severe drop from the 21-22 we had in our opening weekend five or so weeks ago. I get it, there are family commitments, work commitments, and even other hockey commitments that can get in the way. Since this skate is now mine to run, I hope this past Sunday is an anomaly rather than a norm.

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