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Wichita Thunder equipment manager keeps hockey uniforms and skates looking sharp

Hugo Phan

One man’s 50-year love affair with hockey. And laundry.

Hugo Phan

Frank Jury said he began doing laundry for the minor league hockey team in his hometown of Utica, New York, when he was six years old.

"I put jerseys in front of the washer for them," Jury said of his duties with the Mohawk Valley Comets.

"Back then all the jerseys were wool, and they were so heavy that I could only lift one at a time."

Fifty years later, Jury is still doing laundry for a minor league hockey team.

He's in his second stint as equipment manager for the Wichita Thunder. But his job entails much more than laundry.

He also takes care of all the equipment, books the team's travel arrangements, schedules ice time and does whatever else needs to be done to keep the Thunder on track during a seven-month, 72-game season.

On a recent Tuesday morning after practice, that meant telling players to hurry up as the team prepared to catch a bus for a game in Texas.

"Everybody else got their laundry in?" Jury bellowed over the din of the busy locker room. "Let's go. Let's go. Jesus."

Jury – everyone calls him Rizzo, a nickname he picked up in the 1990s while working in Texas – has worked full-time in hockey since he was 17.

Hugo Phan

He's been employed by more than a dozen teams and his resume reads like a travelogue: North Carolina, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Nevada, New York, Alaska and now twice in Wichita.

Sometime in April, he said, he'll watch his 2,500th minor league hockey game.

He said that forming friendships – "I met a lot of really nice people and some people that I consider friends for the rest of my life" – is what keeps him coming back. And he also enjoys the team bonding that occurs during a long season.

"You got 25 guys coming in every year," he said. "Everybody's got their own different personalities, their own different ways they do things. So by the end of it, you're more like a family together."

And that family atmosphere includes the players giving Jury a hard time, and Jury returning the favor. Thunder defenseman Dalton Skelly explained.

"When I got here … Frank continued to call me Dylan, not knowing my name was Dalton. And then a month in, I told him that my actual name was Dalton and he goes, "OK, I'm still gonna call you Dylan.'

"I said, 'All right, sounds good.' "

Hugo Phan

A typical day when the Thunder plays at Intrust Bank Arena starts at 8 in the morning and runs until at least midnight, with maybe a couple of hours off for lunch. Jury and his staff not only have to take care of the Thunder, but also the visiting team.

"So this job is about time management," Jury said. "If you could manage your time and have everything done before the guys walk in, then you're good."

Despite that schedule, and road trips to places like South Dakota and Idaho, Jury also finds time to moonlight as a server at a Wichita restaurant. He said he gets his work ethic from his dad.

"He always worked," Jury said of his dad. "I never got to see a whole bunch of him because of his hours. But I definitely always said that I would work as hard as he did."

Among Jury's daily duties for the Thunder is sharpening skates. Hockey players are notoriously finicky about their skates, which affect their performance on the ice.

Every season, Jury said he learns how each of the 25 players prefers their skates to feel.

"It's a memory thing for me to try realize who's wanting what, the kind of cut they get," Jury said. "So when I do cut 'em, I make sure I'm cutting the right ones. Cause I don't want to make it not sharp enough or too sharp for certain guys."

For minor league players, making it to the National Hockey League is the ultimate goal. And it's the same for many other people who work for the team.

Jury said he has no regrets about never getting a call from the NHL. Especially because his 16-year-old son, Dmitri, joined him as assistant equipment manager when Jury returned to Wichita in 2017.

"You know what? To me, this is my NHL," Jury said. "I mean, I do what I got to do down here. I'm still getting paid. I'm still doing something that I want to do, something I love.

"And then obviously, working with my kid now that's … a bonus for me because being able to work with your child every day is pretty awesome."

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.