SAN ANTONIO – “San Diego and Milwaukee.”
When asked what his favorite cities to visit are, Steve Passineau offered two very different locations.
"San Diego is definitely one because of the weather. It’s perfect there almost every day of the year. And we always seem to have a good time in Milwaukee.”
From the beaches of California to the breweries and city-life of Wisconsin and everywhere in between, Passineau has traveled a long and winding road through the hockey world. Originally hailing from East Greenbush, New York, the 32-year old now finds himself a fixture in the San Antonio sports community, working as the Rampage’s Head Equipment Manager, where he meticulously fine-tunes pads, jerseys, helmets and skates, runs laundry and prepares the locker rooms for game day. It’s not the kind of glamorous job title most young hockey fans aspire to hold, but it didn’t take long for Passineau to find a passion for working behind the scenes.
“As a kid who grew up playing hockey, I always wanted to play in the NHL," Passineau recalled. "But it gets to a point pretty young when you realize that’s not going to happen for everyone. I was not going to be one of those guys. I started with a pro team in New York, the Albany River Rats, who don’t exist anymore. There, I learned pretty quickly that this was what I wanted to do. It’s a way to not sit at a desk all day and be around the sport that I love. From there, our team got sold to Charlotte, North Carolina. I was looking for a job, and I was lucky to land with the Florida Everblades down in Fort Myers. I worked one year there, and through some people I met there, I got lucky again and got a phone call from the coach [in San Antonio].”
Passineau made an immediate impact in a critical situation. In his first year in the Alamo City, the Rampage qualified for the AHL playoffs and were on the cusp of advancing past the first round for the first time in franchise history. That’s when San Antonio’s starting goaltender, Jacob Markström, ran into a league issue with his pants on the morning of the decisive Game 5.
“I had to figure out a solution to make his pants legal before the game started," said Passineau. "Anytime something breaks with the goalie stuff, it’s harder. The goalie stuff is so specific, and sometimes they don’t have backups that are the same. I worked all afternoon after our morning skate, and we got it done. We won the game to go to the second round, so that was nice.”
Nine years and three different NHL-affiliations later, Passineau has established himself as one of the best in the business and a pillar of the Rampage organization. His work ethic and reliability have not gone unnoticed.
“He’s up to date with everything, and makes sure our players are comfortable with their equipment and their sticks," said head coach Drew Bannister. "It makes our jobs a lot easier as coaches.”
“Guys love him," defenseman Derrick Pouliot explained. "He does everything for us and treats us really well. He’ll do everything in his power to give you the best chance to do your job. He’s awesome, and he’s an invaluable piece of this organization.”
“I’m just trying to be set up, so when everyone gets in, everything looks like it’s ready to go," Passineau said. "There are days where something comes up, but the goal is to be as prepared as you can be for when the players and coaches walk in, so that if they’re asking for something, it’s not important.”
Throughout his 13-year professional career, it’s Passineau’s attention to detail that stands out the most. Working with a fluctuating, 24-man roster over the course of a 76-game season while making sure that every player’s equipment is specifically altered to be both personalized and AHL-approved is no easy task.
“Every player has their own flair or style they like," Passineau explained. “When I was in the East Coast League, I had a player -- Drew Larman -- that asked me to sew a crystal and a dreamcatcher into his shoulder pads, so he could harness good energy and bring it home with him at night. He was an interesting person, very nice guy. We don’t have too many interesting guys right now, which is nice.”
Two weeks ago, on Jan. 16, Passineau reached an impressive milestone, working his 1000th career professional hockey game. Prior to puck drop, the Rampage honored Passineau with a pregame ceremony, awarding him a commemorative jersey with the No. 1000 stitched into the back and sleeves.
“Whether they played in 1,000 games, coached, or worked as an equipment manager, it’s a huge accomplishment," Pouliot said. "For teams to like him and keep him around for that long says a lot. It’s awesome to see him hit that milestone.”
After posing for pictures with a quick smile, Passineau stepped back out of the spotlight. He returned to the bench, got some high-fives and pats from his teammates, then quietly went back to work: distributing towels, fixing skates and trading out broken sticks.
It was business as usual. On to the next 1,000.
“I don’t feel like I’ve been doing this for very long,” Passineau said. "I just feel lucky that I got in young, was lucky enough to get a job in the American League pretty young and have fooled people enough to stay here this long. There are so many people that I’ve worked with or worked around that aren’t even in the business anymore. It’s a grind to keep at it.”
As for his thoughts on the future?
“The goal is just to do it until I can’t do it, and to make the NHL. I love the interaction with the guys, not just the players, but the coaching staff, our trainer, my assistant, our strength coach and our PR/Radio guy. We all have a blast.”