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Blackhawks, Capitals honour late equipment man Clint Reif at Winter Classic

01/01/2015 07:00 EST | Updated 03/03/2015 05:59 EST
WASHINGTON - It's impossible for the Chicago Blackhawks not to think about Clint Reif. In the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, there's a jersey hanging from a locker stall bearing the name of the assistant equipment manager who was found dead at his home Dec. 21.

"He passed away, but it's not like we're going to forget about him," Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. "He's still in our hearts and he's still, I guess you can say, in this locker-room. If we can do something little like credit a stall in his name or wear a 'CR' on the back of our helmet and things like that, I think it goes a long way just for his remembrance."

Remembering Reif is a big part of the 2015 Winter Classic, as the Washington Capitals will join the Blackhawks in wearing a decal bearing his initials on the backs of their helmets.

"That is a pretty cool gesture," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We've heard over the last couple weeks the influence and the effect that Clint's had, not only on the guys in this locker-room, but guys that he's worked with or gotten to know in the past with other teams."

Former Blackhawks right-winger Troy Brouwer initiated the move, talking to Capitals equipment manager Brock Myles, who got in touch with his colleagues in Chicago. Brouwer was hoping to wear "CR" on his helmet regardless.

Myles talked to Washington coach Barry Trotz, who called Joel Quenneville to get that organization's blessing. Quenneville appreciated the kind thought.

"We didn't want to take anything away from what Chicago was doing and representing, but we do, our trainers wanted to do it, so we reached out to Chicago and asked them," Trotz said. "And they were gracious enough to do it."

Emotions are still raw around the Blackhawks less than two weeks after Reif's death. The 34-year-old was in his ninth season with the team, and one player declined to even discuss the situation.

Winger Bryan Bickell said he thought about Reif on Wednesday when members of the USA Warriors program took the ice with the Blackhawks. Reif was responsible for getting the wounded veterans new equipment when they skated with the Blackhawks at the Stadium Series last season at Soldier Field in Chicago.

"He was part of our family," Bickell said. "He's always going to be in our hearts and with his family. We're playing for him for this year and probably for a long time. It's definitely tough."

Reif's death resonated beyond the Blackhawks in part because hockey players consider trainers and equipment managers almost like teammates. They're around all the time and do a lot of the dirty work behind the scenes to make hockey happen.

"A lot of people say that they're an extended part of our team and they are part of our team," said Brouwer, who knew Reif and his family well from his time with Chicago. "Everything that we do, we can't get done without them. A lot of things that don't get seen is when we get off the plane at 1, 2 in the morning we get to go into our beds. They got to go unpack our gear, which is something that goes overlooked a lot of the time. The guys in here love them for it, thank them for it."

Myles is joined on the Caps' equipment staff by Craig "Woody" Leydig and Dave Marin. Troy Parchman is the Blackhawks' head equipment manager, and he's assisted by Jim Heintzelman and Jeff Uyeno.

Those people are very important within locker-rooms.

"I don't think people realize that much how hard our trainers do work and what they do on a daily basis," Toews said. "You come back to the rink and you expect things to be a certain way so that you can resume your routine and just focus on playing hockey. They're making sure you can do that. They're there with you every step of the way."

Players remember Reif fondly. Toews called him sociable, happy and a connector of people, and Brouwer referred to him as outgoing, upbeat and smart.

"Clint was an awesome guy," Brouwer said. "He always made us laugh, he always had fun with us. He loved what he did. He's really going to be missed."

The Capitals' tribute means Reif could be enough of a part of the Winter Classic that viewers hear his story, about how he grew up in Illinois and worked as a stick boy for the International Hockey League's Fort Wayne Komets and as an equipment manager for the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears and AHL's Chicago Wolves.

One of the pictures that surfaced after Reif's death was from one of his two days with the Cup. Brouwer remembers the big party Reif and his young family had in the summer of 2010 and knows full well trainers deserve to celebrate like players.

"They're a large part of that accomplishment," Brouwer said.

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