Ray Thill still is trying to find the right edge for Darryl Sydor. The Lightning defenseman fell on his back the other day, and that's not good.
Thill, the Lightning's head equipment manager, tinkered with Sydor's skate blades. Sydor complained they were making him feel like he was too far back on his heels. Thill fixed the angle. It felt even worse. Sydor wanted the blades back the way they were.
Sharpening skate blades is one of Thill's many day-to-day tasks, but it might be among the most important. When it comes to a hockey player's skates, trust doesn't come easy. The wrong feel could ruin a player's night.
It's a 5- to 10-minute job, which can be a long time if a player loses his edge, as it's called, during a game. Typically, though, Thill does most of his sharpening before the game or during practices.
Martin St. Louis needs his skates sharpened the most often. He's always in the corners, digging the puck out, so his blades always are a mess. Cory Stillman, on the other hand, often requests that Thill leave the blades alone.
The oddest blade habit on the team belongs John Grahame. At 220 pounds, it would benefit the goaltender the most to have a more shallow "hollow," or dull blade, because his weight digs it deeper into the ice. Yet Grahame likes his blade so sharp, "it would slice your fingers off."
"I've tried to get him away from that, because he doesn't need it," Thill said. "He can use his weight to turn."
Pavel Kubina likes to have the blade replaced each series, which is probably more often than necessary. Stan Neckar has normal blade habits, but he likes to hang on to the same pair of skates until they practically are in shreds.
"When he got here, he had worn the same pair of skates for four years. I finally threw them out at the end of his first season here. I think he was a little upset."
The players all know, though, that their skates are in good hands with Thill. He's been sharpening skates since he was 16, when he learned his trade in an arena pro shop. He fine-tuned his technique at skate-sharpening school at a place called Maximum Edge in Windsor, Ontario.
He learned every intricacy of a blade's edge, and how a bad blade can hurt the back or the groin. He became so comfortable with the Blade Master, a grinding-wheel machine, that he could use it with his eyes closed. He mastered the art of smoothing out the kinks with a stone.
"I really had no idea where this would lead me," Thill said.
He got his first big job with the International Hockey League's Chicago Wolves in 1994, then moved on to the Detroit Vipers, and on to the Lightning in 1999.
And now this.
The Stanley Cup final. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. And Thill has a piece of it, whether the average fan knows it or not.
"I'm kind of in shock right now," Thill said. "It only just hit me what's going on. I can't sleep, to be honest with you."
At 16, working part-time in a pro shop, he never dreamed of this. If the Lightning wins the Cup, "Ray Thill" will be engraved on it with the Lightning staff.
Finally, his name on the only piece of metal people remember.
- On the Fly focuses on people, events and scenes around the game.