(Wolf Pack athletic trainer Damien Hess, far left, being recognized for his 1000th pro game, alongside (l-r) son Alex, wife Storey, Kerby Gernander, Ken Gernander)
One of the beauties of the AHL is that it is a development ground not only for players but for off-ice talent as well, and the latest "prospect" to move on from the Wolf Pack to an NHL job is long-time athletic trainer Damien Hess.
Hess, who just completed his tenth season on the Wolf Pack staff, and reached the threshold of his 1000th pro game April 9, has been selected by the New York Islanders to become their new athletic trainer.
These kind of positions don't come open very often, and it's a just reward for Hess, who has more than paid his AHL dues. He has a terrific rapport with players, management and medical staff alike, working extremely well with a variety of hugely different personalities. His knowledge of his craft, and ability to communicate it clearly and reasonably, is outstanding, and his upbeat personality always seemed to improve the mood in the Wolf Pack locker room.
Hess joined the Wolf Pack from the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL prior to the 2004-05 season, and worked under three different head coaches, Ryan McGill, Jim Schoenfeld and, for the last seven years, Ken Gernander. He had three seasons in Atlantic City under his belt when he came to Hartford, so all told he has honed his skills for 13 years in minor pro, meaning that, by my reckoning, he has more than enough seasoning to make the jump to the Big Show.
Hess will be jumping into his new job with both feet, as he will have franchise forward John Tavares coming back to action off of a major knee injury, suffered at the Sochi Olympics, that ended his 2013-14 season. Tavares, the Isles' captain, who will turn 24 on September 20, leads a strikingly young Islander roster, so it may not feel much different for Hess than ministering to the prospects that he has seen in the Wolf Pack training room throughout the last decade. And he is certainly familiar with Islander head coach Jack Capuano, from going up against Capuano's teams the three-plus seasons that he was behind the bench in Bridgeport. Also, Hess will be in on the ground floor of a new era in Islanders history, as the team moves from Nassau Coliseum to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season.
An exciting opportunity for a good friend. We'll sure miss him here at the XL Center, but wish him and his family nothing but the best in this next chapter of their lives!