Kings equipment manager Darren Granger has been steady presence on bench for nearly 2,000 games
Darren Granger still remembers the lost glove.
As the clock ran down on franchise history and Staples Center combusted with 45 years of pent-up joy, it didn’t escape him. It was the end of Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, and in that historic moment, Justin Williams hurled his glove as chaos ensued and confetti streamed down.
“It went about 10 rows behind the bench, into the stands, and we were like, ‘Ah, forget it,’ ” Granger said.
As the Kings’ equipment manager, Granger leaves no detail forgotten, even in delirium. He’s the caretaker of their tools of the trade, and a behind-the-scenes rock through Cup conquests and franchise lows. He’s usually the first person players see when they show up at the rink, and the last person they see when they leave the locker room after the game. Saturday will mark Granger’s 2,000th game, his steady presence as much a part of the Kings as the jerseys on their backs.
“His heart rate never goes above 60,” assistant equipment manager Dana Bryson said.
If there’s one person who knows the Kings inside and out, it’s Granger. He knows how the players feel, right down to crafting gear to help protect their banged-up bodies. But it’s more that Granger and his staff serve as a sounding board to players, a visit to his office akin to sitting in a barber’s chair.
“With these guys, they know everything about me,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “They know every little thing. They know when I’ve done stupid [things] and I come in the next morning and tell them about it. They know my emotions. They know me as a player. They know me as a husband. They probably know a little too much, to be honest.”
It’s that day-to-day interaction that Granger has enjoyed over the years. He’s seen the emotional flow on the bench, from the tears of Willie Mitchell upon that ’12 Cup clincher to all the work that led up to that day.
“I think being a positive guy, and somebody that they trust fully, I think is a big part of it,” Granger said. “It’s a big part of a job to be like that. I think with that, it becomes a bit of a friendship.
“One thing I do pride myself on is treating everybody the same and making sure that, no matter who you are, you have what you need to get your job done, and going above and beyond to do that.”
Granger, 47, is one of the last old-school equipment managers who can do repairs such as re-palm gloves and stitch skates. He recently had to replace the sole in a skate of interim coach Willie Desjardins, an unheard-of fix in today’s age.
“I think he might be the last guy left wearing Nike skates,” Granger said.
Bryson said Granger’s hand is rare in an age of readily available new gear that easily replaces broken equipment.
“It’s almost like a lost art, and he’s an absolute wizard,” Bryson said.
Dustin Brown remembers Granger cutting a hole in Ilya Kovalchuk’s skate and patching it to accommodate an inflamed ankle that Kovalchuk dealt with earlier this season. Brown has had his share of ailments too over the years, and Granger has walked him through each one.
“Anybody can re-sew an elbow pad together, but he comes up with material that he has in back or finds,” Brown said. “He’s really good at creating something that gives you better texture or support but doesn’t get in the way.”
Granger hung around the rink as a kid in Brandon, Canada, near Winnipeg, because his father, Stu, was a linesman and off-ice official in the Western Hockey League. A trainer for the Brandon Wheat Kings asked Granger to help out, and he found himself working at the local skate shop. Craig Heisinger, formerly the equipment manager for the Wheat Kings and now an assistant general manager for the Winnipeg Jets, gave Granger his start, and he was hired by the Vancouver Canucks in 1992 and by the Kings in 2006.
Granger has seen the evolution to composite sticks and removable skate blades. Ryan Smyth in 2011 was the last Kings player to use a wooden blade. Kovalchuk is the only Kings player who still uses decade-old skates with non-removable blades.
What hasn’t changed is the players’ idiosyncrasies. Kovalchuk and Jeff Carter like using new sticks, while others, such as former Kings winger Jordan Nolan, got new sticks only if they broke. Brown goes through 10 pairs of skates in a season but rarely changes shoulder pads.
Granger recently changed the cage on goalie Jonathan Quick’s mask, and Quick used it for a few games before he abandoned it for his old one. Quick will change his glove, but he doesn’t like to change his chest protector and arm pads.
“He’s using stuff that was built for him 15 years ago,” Granger said. “His [leg] pads still have the same material on the inside. They’re a little heavy.
“When I ask him, it’s a lot to do with the way he plays. He likes to stay with his body, where other goalies are trying to take up space and try and be as big as they possibly can.”
Granger is one of the first people to be aware of a trade or a new player because he has to produce a jersey. If a number is taken, Granger will send the player a list of others to choose from, or he’ll choose it himself.
There are special times when a player such as Carl Grundstrom will make his NHL debut, and Granger will have that player wear two jerseys, one of which is a keepsake version with a special stitching inside that denotes his first game.
“I think guys like that,” Granger said.
Granger helped goalie Jack Campbell adjust to the new rules for chest protectors and has seen Campbell go through everything from his first NHL shutout, at the Montreal’s Bell Centre, to a deflating six-week injury. When Campbell changed his jersey from No. 1 to No. 36, Granger was his first phone call.
“He’s just so chill,” Campbell said.
That calm demeanor masks the nocturnal hours of equipment managers, who are in constant transit to the next venue in the name of drying out gear for the next morning.
“I think my family should get an award before anybody else,” Granger said of 2,000 games. “It’s a lot of time away.”
The Kings’ two Cup wins eased the sacrifice. In the catharsis and partying that consumed the scene of ’12, Granger had the forethought to instruct the arena’s ice crew to retrieve all the gloves, sticks, helmets and whatever else was disrobed. But he wasn’t going to let it interfere with history.
“I’ll give him credit,” Bryson said. “He said, ‘I don’t [care] what happens to the equipment. We’ll find it eventually. But we’re going to enjoy this moment.’ ”
One lost glove notwithstanding.
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network).
Update: Florida goalie Sam Montembeault has won three straight games since he made his NHL debut March 2. Jonathan Huberdeau is one assist short of tying Viktor Kozlov’s franchise season record of 53. The Kings lost to the Panthers 6-1 two days before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
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