Westmont Hilltop School District Alumni GO HILLTOPPER!
Pouring coffee with Penguins head equipment manager Dana Heinze can be a revealing experience.
First, grab a Styrofoam cup, black or gold with the Penguins logo on the side. Heinze packs these for road trips and insists the Penguins are the only NHL team that travels with logo-covered cups.
But don't dare put cream at the bottom and pour. That's an inadequate mix. Instead, dump one into the other, then repeat.
Spill a little? In an instant, there's an outstretched arm offering a paper towel.
“It's the little details that set us apart,” Heinze said. “People might think it's excessive or extreme, but I think it makes a difference.”
Heinze, 46, is a master of details. The 2014-15 season is Heinze's ninth in his current role, each more obsessive-compulsive than the last.
The man who outfits the Penguins, who fixes equipment, who sharpens skates, who ensures players are offered their preferred hair product and who organizes the locker room, leaves no box unchecked.
Heinze and the three men working under him — Dan Kroll, Teddy Richards and Jon Taglianetti — travel with signage and rugs to make visiting locker rooms feel like home.
Before leaving, however, those same four men set up the home locker room at Consol Energy Center as if there was a game. Why?
“Because I'll know it's not perfect,” Heinze said.
Crazy? Perhaps. But that's Heinze's world. It's one that starts before 6 a.m., regardless of whether the team returned home only a few hours before.
On game days, Heinze doesn't make it home for the 11 o'clock news. Or Letterman.
Heinze's wife Kathy said her husband logs 90-100 hours per week in season.
“I always feel like, if I leave, the building's going to fall down,” Heinze said. “I know that's not the case, but that's me. I have to get over that hurdle.”
In a world as transient and ruthless as the NHL, Heinze said he believes teams can gain an advantage by making sure players are comfortable.
Whether it's packing two pairs of skates for every player, creating carbon copies of their exact skate blade cut or a few years ago finding winger Jarome Iginla a pair of gloves that hadn't been made in four years, it's hard to argue.
“He brings an energy to the locker room,” forward Beau Bennett said. “He's a quirky guy; you love to see him in the locker room because he's a fun guy to be around.
“He's always there asking what you need. He's getting it done right away, and he's in your corner.”
PRIDE IN THE LOGO
How detailed and meticulous is Heinze?
The morning after coach Mike Johnston and assistant Rick Tocchet were hired, they had lockers with nameplates to reflect the changes.
Former coach Dan Bylsma and two his assistants who were fired, Todd Reirden and Tony Granato, did not.
In Heinze's vault — he won't call it storage because he thinks that makes it sound expendable — there are five electronic carriages that move side-to-side to reveal 15-foot walls housing every possible pad or piece of clothing a player may need.
Each compartment is neatly labeled with Penguins logo magnets.
Look at Heinze's work rooms for skates, jerseys and sticks. There's not a single tool on any counter. Everything is marked.
“You could sneak in on us tomorrow or the next day, and you're going to get the same details,” Heinze said. “It's how we do our business.”
In the skate shop, things for the right boot are located on the right of the room, the left on the left.
Heinze marks each skate with a born-on date along with that player's cut preferences.
He's saved every piece of skate steel he's changed since 2006. Hand-written descriptions, of course.
Heinze purposely displays photos of himself and his staff — not Penguins players — throughout the behind-the-scenes equipment areas as a way to celebrate their hard work and build morale.
“On the outside, it should be all about the players. They're the stars,” Heinze said. “But in the skate shop, why not celebrate our staff? We work hard, too.”
Heinze calls himself “artsy” and views arranging a locker room on the road as “having an empty palette.”
If a shoelace is flopped over the outside of a skate boot, Heinze wants it tucked in — and will do it himself, never viewing himself as too big for a situation.
“That's one of our big mottos, the attention to detail,” said Kroll, who's worked for Heinze since December 2006. “Dana has a lot of pride in our logo and what it stands for.
“We're proud of what we offer to the players, especially on the road with making the road dressing room look like Pittsburgh with all our signs and logo carpets. I think it really helps a little bit, you know?”
‘LONG, STRANGE ROAD TRIP'
Such exactness isn't limited to the rink for Heinze, who went to Westmont Hilltop High School near Johnstown and previously worked in the Devils and Lightning organizations.
When Heinze talks about his commute from the North Hills, he points out that it takes 18 minutes, not 20. Same for his drive to Westmont, which is precisely 58 miles.
“He's not quite the same way at home,” Kathy said with a laugh. “I don't think he could be that way. He would probably go crazy. It would be too much.”
Heinze hated math growing up and learned numbers by memorizing baseball cards. As a result, he wound up collecting complete sets one pack at a time dating back to his birth year — 1967.
Only in 2002 did he start buying factory-issued sets.
“When I start to get into something, I go in — two feet,” Heinze said. “I feel like I have to have everything.”
Dana and Kathy Heinze don't have kids, a decision they made a while back because of Dana's hectic schedule.
Instead, the couple rescues dogs and cats — always two at a time, each with various maladies.
Of everything Heinze has collected over the years, one of his favorites is a poster that features the Grateful Dead's most recognizable logo — a red, white and blue skull — and an altered lyric from the song “Truckin.”
What a long, strange road trip it's been.
“It's not a bad thing,” Heinze said. “It's just a statement, saying that this has been a long, strange trip. It doesn't matter if we're at home or on the road, something new comes up every day.”
Casey Craig graduated from Westmont Hilltop High School with a reputation as one of the top boys basketball players in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.
Craig finished with 999 career points and was a three-time All-LHAC selection.
When he joined the Juniata College men’s basketball program in 1993, Craig entered a whole new hoops world – one in which he had to fight simply to earn playing time and eventually a spot in the starting lineup.
Back then, the former Hilltopper wasn’t thinking about earning hall of fame credentials.
Two decades later, Craig has been honored alongside some of the best student-athletes Juniata College has ever produced.
The Juniata College Sports Hall of Fame inducted Craig into its seven-member Class of 2014 on Friday night.
“It’s just an unbelievable honor,” Craig said on Saturday afternoon. “I went there as an undersized freshman. I was coming from a conference that didn’t have the statewide recognition of a conference like the WPIAL.
“It was eye-opening coming from Westmont where I was an all-conference guy for a few years to being somewhere I wasn’t in the starting lineup.
“I had to work for everything I got. It really humbles you. ?A lot of kids come from a high school program where they’re an all-star or standout and all of a sudden you get to a school, even at the Division III level, where everyone is a conference all-star.”
It didn’t quite hit Karlee McQuillen that she was a part of an exclusive group of former student-athletes until she had received the plaque awarded to her as an inductee of the Pennsylvania High School Track and Field Hall of Fame earlier this month at Penn State University.
McQuillen, a Westmont Hilltop graduate, received the honor at the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches’ Association indoor state meet at Penn State.
“It doesn’t hit you until you’re there,”?McQuillen said.
“You get this little badge saying that you’re an inductee and you know, you’re at the high-school meet and all these kids are aspiring to make the Hall of Fame in track and field. It wasn’t until my dad (Thomas McQuillen)?was handing me the plaque, standing in the infield, having everybody watch as they list off my accomplishments that it really did hit me that, wow, I?really did have a terrific career.
“It’s a great way to be acknowledged. I’m glad that my dad was the one that got to honor me by being there with the plaque. It really was surreal.”
Then again, for the two-time state champion and one-time PIAA silver medalist in the javelin, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise.
“It was really, really, really amazing,”?McQuillen said. “Especially since the ceremony was at Penn State. I?got inducted with a couple of other track athletes that I?had known from high school and from competing against them in college. It was really a phenomenal honor ... Just to be in that group of amazing track athletes really was an unexpected and amazing honor.”
Among McQuillen’s other scholastic accomplishments are a pair of gold medals (2006 and ‘07) at the Nike Outdoor National Meet; a gold medal at the Penn Relays in 2007; a Pennsylvania record in the javelin throw (162 feet, 4 inches); two first-team All-American nods from Track &?Field News and USA?Today, respectively, and a spot on the National Scholastic Track and Field Team.
Not bad for the former Hilltopper and eventual Penn State Nittany Lion. “It really did start that very first time I?picked up a javelin out of our barn at Westmont Middle School,”?McQuillen said. “Just tossing it around not really knowing what I was doing.
“It was from that moment, on that they were behind me 100 percent.”?
As McQuillen – the daughter of Thomas and Debbie McQuillen – rewound her memory back to the March 1 ceremony at Penn State, it wasn’t long until she mentioned that the honor didn’t exclusively belong to her.
“My supporting cast on the basketball team, soccer team and in track,”?she said. “I had the pleasure of being a part of such great teams. Some of the greatest athletes I’ve ever come in contact with: Kelly Britcher, Natalie Sheehan and Katie Littner.
They really brought out the best in me. With a supporting cast like that, you could only get better.