MILWAUKEE -- The goal of the players on the Milwaukee Admirals roster is to win now and get promoted to the NHL in the future. The goal of a key member of their support staff is to help them do just that.
He doesn't get a jersey, but Kris Stierwalt is still one of the Admirals' most valuable contributors. Technically, he is the team's head equipment manager, and, on the ice, that matters.
"Everything from the skates to the sticks, guys are really picky about their sticks and their skates," Stierwalt said. "And then everything else to protect them from blocking shots or getting hit or anything like that. We're constantly adding pads or fixing stuff and mending it here and there."
Stierwalt got into his part of the game at the age of 15, meaning that while he works with customized sticks now, he dates back to the days of guys working up their wooden sticks.
"I remember when I first started, that's what it was," said Stierwalt. "Every guy had his own little thing and hearing it up and the bucket of ice and trying to curve it and bend it, and now it's like half of the young kids in here don't even know you can bend a hockey stick."
But this is 2020.
"A lot of hockey companies have paired-up with golf companies, too," Stierwalt said. "A lot of technology that's in a gold club is also in our hockey sticks. The sticks that our guys are using are customized every inch down the stick, as to how long it is to where the kick is."
The Admirals' parent club -- the Nashville Predators -- wants to keep its investments safe, too.
"Nashville requires us all to wear shot-blockers on our skates and have extra protection on all of our equipment," said Stierwalt. "Some of the other teams don't require that, but for us, we notice we haven't had as many issues, as many broken feet, as we normally have with adding the extra padding."
It is a well-known hockey truism that you can't really win without a good goaltender. It is lesser-known that you need a good equipment manager, too.
"I think it would be tough to win without a good equipment manager," Stierwalt said. "There's so many behind-the-scenes details that you don't see going to the game that they need."
On many nights, Stierwalt is the first star of the game -- on the ice with the Admirals.