Part laundromat operator, part sporting goods sales rep, part medic, part counsellor.
Nolan Bowker is all of the above as the head athletic trainer for the Vernon Vipers.
And like the players, the 23-year-old Maple Ridge product is all about hard work and progressing to the next level.
Bowker replaced Gord (Hoon) Cochrane, who left for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. Bowker was the assistant equipment manager with the Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames’ top affiliate) of the American League last season.
“I kind of lucked out last year, applied with Abbotsford and got the job,” said the fun-loving former goalie. “My last couple of years of junior hockey (with the Grand Prairie Kings), I sharpened skates and would set the room up in the morning and then come to the game at night.”
Bowker, now a sniper in the Boston Pizza rec league, had a blast dealing with pros in the AHL. He’s heard every chirp in the book, trying not to laugh when on the bench.
“Last year was great in Abbotsford. Prankster wise, it was probably the Finns. Joni Orio and Markus Grandlund, they were always pretty good. I became really close to them. The older guys like Joey MacDonald and Dean Arsene, they’re great guys, they’ll do anything for you. I still talk to them pretty much every day now.”
The tall Flames-turned Canucks fan went with Abbotsford on a few road trips, but mainly stayed home and helped with the injured players.
Hardly a luxurious lifestyle, Bowker loves the work.
“It’s not really a tough job, in general. You get a couple of picky guys that everyday want something different fixed. Skates, laundry, sewing. The coach (Troy Ward) said last year we were the jack of all trades, but master of none.”
The Vipers basically look to Bowker for tape and equipment needs. He’s been sharpening skates for six years, using his own tricks for perfection. If somebody needs some muscles loosened, he calls team massage therapist Lon Fraser.
Bowker washes the jerseys after each game and ensures the dressing room is spotless. No shoes are allowed inside. He’s the first and last guy at Kal Tire Place on game days.
“We pretty much live at the rink. We’re here game days anywhere for a minimun 16- to 19-hour days.”
He had a six-game cup of mocha with the KIJHL Princeton Posse as a 16-year-old. The next year, he patrolled the crease for the Port Moody Black Panthers of the Pacific Coast Junior B circuit. Bowker spent the following season with the Beaverlodge Blades in Alberta before finishing his Junior career with the Kings, practising once in a while with Mike Vandekamp’s Junior A Grand Prairie Storm.
He understands the Junior hockey culture well.
“I have a close bond with the guys because I’m here everyday with them. I know a lot about their personal lives and they know they can come talk to me about anything. What happens in my office stays in my office. It’s a closed book. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”
As for the elite pranksters on the Vipers, Bowker said: “Danny’s (Todoyschuk) up there for sure. Jags (Jagger Williamson) tries to be funny. (Mitchell) Oliver tries to be pretty funny too but they don’t pull it off. (Liam) Finlay likes to try, but he’s got a lot of work to do.”
Todoyschuk, a veteran 20-year-old, says Bowker is well respected.
“Nolan’s a little different than Hooner in the sense that they have different routines. It’s important for them to fit in. He’s gotta be one of those guys that you wanna see everyday at the rink. I’ve been unable to prank him, not intentionally anyway.”
Todoyschuk and fellow net detective Jarrod Schamerhorn are quite comfortable going to Bowker for equipment repairs because of his experience in goal.
Bowker played third base and catcher in minor baseball. Larry Walker, a Major League star, was good friend’s with his uncle. Nolan also talked hockey with Andrew Ladd (Winnipeg Jets).
Bowker, who turns 24 in May, used to sit on his dad’s knee at Canuck games. Working in the show is his goal.
“I’d like to get back to the NHL as soon as possible. Like everyone else, you wanna play or work at the highest level possible and make a living. It would be nice to stay here another year because I know what’s coming down the pipeline so it would be fun to be part of that. It would also be great to move back to the American Hockey League because with all the teams coming out west, it’s gonna to open up a lot of work.”
He says the money is pretty good at the minor-pro level.
“I found out last year in the American League, you actually get tip money. I was doing the airport runs for the visiting teams. They’d tip you so it was money right into my pocket. So, it was a nice little surprise for me.”