LIFELONG CAREER IN HOCKEY COMES FULL-CIRCLE FOR KROUSEDec 12, 2019
By Tom Witosky
A quick glance inside Richard “Shakes” Krouse’s office just off the Iowa Wild’s locker room and one understands why he got the job.
“His organization is top-notch,” veteran defenseman Matt Bartkowski said. “Everything is in its place – everything.”
Whether it’s the veteran equipment manager’s hammers, wrenches, drill bits, pliers, skate blades or tapes, Krouse has a place for it within easy sight and reach. But, that’s only part of the job for the 46-year-old Utica, NY area native who is making the Des Moines metro his home for the second time during his career in managing equipment for a professional hockey team.
His main task: making sure every hockey need of the 25 or so American Hockey League players on the Iowa roster is ready to be filled before it’s needed.
“It is about being out in front of everything,” Krouse said. “A player can go through a pair of skates in less than a month so a new pair needs to be ready before the player even asks.”
Head Coach Tim Army agreed a hockey team’s equipment manager and his assistant (in the Wild’s case, Justin Sturtz) are among those who are at work early, at work late, and are always working on something even if it seems insignificant.
“There's having equipment ready, there's equipment repair,” Army said. “Something that seems small, like a guy breaks a strap on his helmet during the game, you get it fixed and get them ready to get back out. There's always something that might seem inconsequential, but can be big.”
For Krouse, the hours and the demands of the job only make it more fun. It’s been a labor of delight since his days growing up in northern New York when his folks took him and his brother to watch the Mohawk Valley Comets in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League.
“My mom and dad would take us to their games,” Krouse said. “We sat three rows off the glass and had end seats next to where the home team would come on and off the ice.”
The Krouse family became big fans of the local hockey team and then one night Krouse and his brother, John, were introduced to the hockey world when an usher asked if the boys could help set the goals after the ice had been cleaned between periods.
“They needed some help moving the nets out on the ice and putting the pegs in,” Krouse remembered. “We did that for a couple games.”
A few games later, the team’s equipment manager said he needed help doing the team’s laundry and cleaning the locker rooms before leaving on a road trip.
“We cleaned the place up, folded every towel. When they came back home I started going as much as I could including after school,” Krouse said. “When the team went on road trips on the weekend, I would go and sleep on the hotel floors just to be there.”
That kind of effort led to a job offer right out of high school and a 20-year career in equipment management that has taken him on a cross-country journey that has included stops in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, FL, Long Island, Kalamazoo, MI and twice in Des Moines.
“Hockey just grabbed me at a young age and I’ve been with it ever since,” said Krouse, who’s career includes 12 seasons as assistant equipment manager for the New York Islanders – one of his favorite teams growing up.
Early on, he earned his nickname, ironically, from a young player in Utica, who would become his boss years later – Bill Guerin.
“I loved milkshakes, particularly the Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s,” Krouse said. “I would get one every day and bring it to the rink.”
Guerin dubbed Krouse “Shakes” and the nickname has stuck ever since.
“He said I looked like a milkshake from the side and that was going to be my nickname,” Krouse said.
His nickname, plus his stomach from the milkshakes, also became a lucky charm to the team.
“Whenever we were in a situation where we were down by a goal going into a period, everybody would come up touch my stomach for luck,” Krouse said.
Years of that luck ran out temporarily when the Islanders notified Krouse he would not be retained after the 2017-18 season.
“That was quite a surprise because I had never heard those words spoken to me,” he said.
Being out of work didn’t last long though, as Krouse met with Minnesota Wild Head Equipment Manager Tony DaCosta last summer at an athletic trainers conference. Krouse learned that Iowa’s Mike Lefczik might be hired by the Philadelphia Flyers and that an AHL opening was possible.
Days later, Krouse talked with Tom Kurvers, the team’s general manager, and then Army.
“I knew Tony thought highly of him and I was going to take that seriously,” Army said.
At the same time, Army said anyone new to the club – player, coach, or staffer – would have to fit in well and understand what that meant.
“His personality was upbeat and he knew we all have to fit into the overall puzzle. I saw a good team attitude,” Army said.
Plus, Army said, he noticed a common trait.
“The other thing I liked about him was there’s a little bit of compulsiveness like me,” Army said. “He's very, very neat. And I'm very, very neat. And I like things lined up nice in order and I could tell he had that sense.”
Krouse also has a sense of humor. Known as a prankster, Krouse said he hasn’t started with Wild players because it’s still early in the season. But, he also said he expects retaliation like the time Islander goalies Rick DiPietro and Garth Snow tried to put him in the team dryer.
“Ricky comes with Snow and he goes, ‘Let's spin him.’ So they were trying to put me in the clothes dryer. And they had me like, almost had my head in the dryer,” Krouse said.
At that moment, coach Steve Sterling walks in and ends it.
“Snow tells me my medical alert bracelet had just saved me,” he added.
Bartkowski, a prankster himself, says he’s been reticent to start anything with Shakes, like rearranging his room.
“It’s a little too soon, I think,” Bartkowski said. “I don't know how he’d react. I might want to let one of the other guys try that first.”
Krouse said he isn’t concerned either way. He’s just glad to be back in Iowa – where he had spent six weeks as equipment manager for the Iowa Stars, but left when the NHL lockout took place during the 2004-05 season.
“I had a really nice apartment in Norwalk and would have liked to stay,” Krouse said. “But that’s when the offer from the Islanders came for the next season.”
Krouse didn’t have to look far for a replacement though. He recommended his brother, who would be with the Stars in Des Moines for two seasons.
“When I got the offer to come back, I felt really good about it,” Krouse said. “It had that full-circle feel to it and I liked that.”