As the assistant equipment manager of the Nashville Predators, Camelio started taking inventory of what the Predators had, writing down items big and small to make sure he wouldn’t forget anything.
Skate sharpeners. Helmet screws. Thread to sew jerseys. A convection oven to heat plastic guards molded over skates to protect players blocking shots …
“The amount of stuff that needs to be ordered is incredible,” Camelio said.
But that’s what this is: an incredible opportunity and challenge.
Among the seven hires the Kraken announced Tuesday were Camelio, head athletic trainer Mike Booi and head strength and conditioning coach Nate Brookreson.
Each not only has risen to the highest level of his profession in the NHL for the first time, he gets to start a department and do it in Seattle. The expansion team is building a training center and an arena, each as cutting-edge as new skate blades, and will join the NHL in 2021-22.
Camelio is now typing up his inventory into a shopping list.
“We need to order every single piece of equipment we may possibly need throughout the hockey season,” Camelio said. “It is a large task that I’m lucky to have.”
Camelio has been working toward this since he was 14.
His parents would take him to watch Rochester of the American Hockey League, and he’d hang over the rail, asking the equipment guys for sticks and tape. He got to know equipment manager Pete Rogers and became a stick boy, then an assistant.
When the Predators joined the NHL in 1998-99, Rogers became their equipment manager and invited Camelio to their inaugural training camp, so this won’t be the first time he has been involved with the birth of an NHL team.
“My role was a lot less back then,” Camelio said with a laugh. “But I got to see. They were still trying to set up shelving and set up workshops and get rubber laid in locker rooms as camp was beginning.”
Jeff Camelio, third from right, being honored by the Nashville Predators for his work as their assistant equipment manager
After stints as the head equipment manager with South Carolina of the ECHL and Bridgeport of the AHL, Camelio joined Rogers as an assistant in Nashville. After 15 seasons and 1,700 NHL games, he’s leaving Rogers for Seattle.
“He’s more than ready to take the next step and be the head guy,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said.
It’s not easy to take that step when there are only 31 — wait, now 32 — jobs in the NHL.
“It’s bittersweet leaving, obviously, but there’s not a lot of turnover in these positions,” Camelio said. “It takes a long time for a position to open, so to get the opportunity is definitely a dream come true.”
It’s similar for Booi. His background was mostly in football early in his career, but he grew up in Michigan playing hockey and always wanted to get into the sport. He said he would call or email about 60 teams a year. A few would reply to say they had nothing to offer. Most didn’t reply at all.
Then he got a break. He knew someone who knew someone, and next thing he knew he had landed a job with Greenville of the ECHL. From there, he had stops with Portland and Springfield of the AHL.
Finally, he made it to the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes and Washington Capitals. Except for a short stint as the interim head athletic trainer of the Coyotes, he has been an assistant at the NHL level.
“At some point, you feel like the guy’s ready to take the step,” Francis said. “From discussions with Mike and people who have worked with him, we felt comfortable he was the right guy for the job.”
Booi said it was really tough to leave Washington. But he hopes to bring some of the Capitals’ strong culture to Seattle.
“You can put it all together the way that you would like to do it,” Booi said. “It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity to start something from scratch anywhere, let alone at the most elite level of professional men’s ice hockey in the world.”
Brookreson has not been involved in hockey at any level. His most recent job was assistant athletic director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports at North Carolina State.
But he’s from Lacey, Washington, and played football at Central Washington. He has learned from Patrick Ward, who works in research and development for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. When Kraken assistant GM Ricky Olczyk visited the Seahawks strength and conditioning staff, Brookreson’s name came up.
One day, Brookreson received a text from Ward telling him Francis might contact him. The Hockey Hall of Famer played for the Carolina Hurricanes from 1998-2004 and was their GM from 2014-18, and he still had a home in the area. They met at a Starbucks in Raleigh.
“Talk about a very unique opportunity to meet with a GM,” Brookreson said.
They met four or five times, not necessarily talking about the job at first. But Brookreson made an impression.
Francis said in his mind a big part of hiring a strength and conditioning coach is finding someone with the right attitude and personality to connect with players and build trust.
“In getting to know Nate and taking to different people about him, you certainly get that feel the way he comes across,” Francis said. “He hasn’t been in hockey, but from my first conversation with him to my second, he had already researched things and learned things, so I think that won’t be an issue for him.”
Brookreson will have a resource in Gary Roberts, a former NHL forward and renowned personal trainer who be a sports science and performance consultant.
“It’s just taking that time to set up the best system in the NHL,” Brookreson said, “and then exact it once people are walking in the door.”
Photos: Courtesy of Seattle Kraken