By Dustin Leed, Philadelphia Correspondent
PHILADELPHIA, PA -- It's 3:45 p.m. inside the Wells Fargo Center on April 26.
The transformation from a hardwood basketball court to a sheet of solid ice is complete. The boards are erect and in place, but the seats are still empty, waiting to be filled – just a quiet, lifeless hockey arena.
No cracking sound of the frozen puck traveling from stick to stick, no thumping of shoulder pads and bodies off of the glass; and no beautiful 'ping' from a wrister clanging off the iron.
Three hours and 45 minutes until the Philadelphia Flyers' biggest and most important game of the 2010-11 season.
Behind the scenes all the preparation is complete and on schedule. Every game jersey has been folded, sticks taped, skates sharpened and each set of game equipment is placed perfectly inside each players' locker stall.
But instead of the usual pre-game ritual, the man in charge, head equipment manager Derek Settlemyre, found a cozy, quiet spot on the Flyers bench.
The pre-game run with members of the coaching staff is complete and the time to circle up with the boys for a game of two-touch soccer outside the locker room and shoot hoops with forward Claude Giroux on a make-shift basketball net mounted to a concrete wall next to the loading dock was yet to come.
In that downtime, Settlemyre found some free time chat up one very lucky Flyers reporter on the home teams' bench, a couple feet away from center ice, just hours prior to the do-or-die Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
"I got the luckiest job," Derek said with a smile and a tinge unbelief during our laid back hockey chat. "I got the best seat in the house."
The man the team calls Nasty can usually be seen each game, standing next to the coaching staff behind the bench mingling with the players, rocking a faux hawk or some spiked locks while sporting plenty of ink. Nasty is hip -- more of a cross between NHL player and rocker than 40-year-old father of two.
His connection to the players is evident. Not just because he looks the part, but from the off-ice hangouts, to nickname-calling, to first-pounds, to laughs – and even a little motivational speaking -- it's obvious that Settlemyre is part of the Flyers family.
"You're with these guys so much you feel a bond and even the coaches too," Nasty mentions. "They're all good guys, just everybody. It is like a family, you're together a lot... a lot, but it's great."
Like a family, in more ways than one.
Nasty has been in the Flyers organization since the 1994-95 season. He spent his first two seasons as the assistant equipment manager under his father -- Dave 'Sudsy' Settlemyre -- and then took the head equipment manager position with the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers' former AHL squad (now Adirondack).
"(Then GM) Mr. (Bob) Clarke told me if I want to do it here I need to learn," Settlemyre said. "I wouldn't have traded it for anything."
Derek was a part of two championship-winning teams with the Phantoms and is now entering his sixth season as the Flyers head equipment manager. His pops, Sudsy, was the long-time Flyers head equipment man and retired from the Flyers the same year Derek took the Phantoms Head position. Sudsy started with the Flyers organization as part of the Philadelphia Firebirds -- a minor league professional ice hockey team that played in Philly from 1974 to 1979.
Like his father has experienced, Nasty told me his days are long but he wouldn't trade it for anything. Game day usually starts at 6:30 a.m. for a 7:30 p.m. game and by the time he gets back to the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, it's around 11:30 p.m.
This day wasn't any different. Derek's to-do list before the puck drop included: Sew, order, repair, and repeat. Probably in the exact same order he did it two days prior in Buffalo.
Hockey players and those around the game are an odd breed -- quite a superstitious bunch -- and Mr. Settlemyre is no different. Derek donned the exact same outfit he wore just two days ago when Ville Leino's Game 6 tally at 4:43 of the first overtime period staved off elimination against Buffalo.
"I've been trying to get to not be so superstitious," Derek said with a grin.
"But I can't get it out of my system."
Though, it doesn't look as if Nasty tries very hard to get it out of his system at all.
His complete pregame outfit he wore for Game 6 throughout the day in Buffalo, was washed, folded and placed exactly the same way it was on Sunday ahead of Tuesday's Game 7. His game attire? Yep, washed and folded following Game 6 to be worn exactly the same way this night.
Creatures of habit, I suppose.
After each pre-game practice the time for Derek gets a little hectic, if there is any kind of repair that needs to be done for a player, he is in charge. Earlier in the day, Derek and his fellow equipment buddies (Anthony 'Rock' Oratorio, Harry Bricker and Mike 'Huggy' Craytor) transfer some equipment back and forth from Skate Zone and Wells Fargo -- the only thing that goes are skates and goalie equipment. Each NHL player has two sets of equipment -- so the team isn't responsible for transferring that back and forth.
Equipment Manager Bricker is in charge of the skate work, while Settlemyre is busy getting game jerseys out, drying equipment and hanging the jersey's and socks for each player before their arrival.
Settlemyre, a 1993 Coker College graduate and North Carolina native, got his start in the game with the Florida Panthers, in 1993 -- their expansion season -- as a 22-year-old.
Game days give Derek a little bit of time to do much-needed paper work, as well. If there is anything that needs to be caught up, or an equipment repair, Derek will do it. He is also in charge of ordering everything, from skate laces to sticks, for the players.
As our conversation about hockey, life and the Flyers went on, the hockey nut in me came out -- I wanted to get more specific.
Who tapes the sticks? Who gets what equipment? Who goes through the most sticks?
At this point, our conversation has reach around the 10-minute mark -- plenty of time before the doors open for the pivotal Game 7.
Nasty began to share some stories about the each player's preferences. He got rolling on a story and said the stick Leino used to score the Game 6 winner -- was taped by Nasty.
The spray paint James van Riemsdyk uses is the color gray -- the only player in the NHL with gray spray paint. (Spray paint is a personal touch players like to add at the bottom of their sticks). He tried white, black with a combination of different colored tape and it wasn't working. His breakout play began with... you betcha... gray colored paint.
Look closely -- Danny Briere, who uses a 77-flex stick, takes a razor blade to the bottom of his blade so the ice doesn't build up and there is less friction.
When game day rolls around, Blair Betts is in the stick room at the exact same time every single game day -- chop, chop.
During every timeout, former Flyers goalie Brian Boucher needed water, Gatorade and a towel on the bench waiting for him. If it wasn't -- he'd look at you as if something was seriously wrong.
Former Flyer Simon Gagne could sometimes go through three sticks a game multiply that by 82 regular season games.
Creatures of habit, I suppose.
Nasty went on to say: each player's stick is made 100% specific to each player. The shape of the shaft, the curve, the flex, the pattern the shape of the blade and grip is all personalized -- whatever they want, they get.
Nasty tells me equipment maker's battle to get each player. It's up to the player to choose which company they want to go with. If Bauer doesn't suit, try Warrior. Not a fan? Give Easton a try or CCM/Reebok. If the company really wants a certain player, they'll do whatever they can go get them to sport their equipment.
With the hockey conversation nearing 15 minutes I wanted to tap into personal relationships, off-season and if he ever gets tired of his work.
"You need a little break. The season is so long, it's nice to get out of the rink for a little bit, but I get itching to get back right away I love it," he said with a look on his face comparable to a little child on Christmas morning.
I knew that the "do you ever get sick of it?" question didn't have to be pulled out. But "how about the off-season?" one was sufficient.
"Around here, quite a few guys stick around the area (quite a few guys come back and live here) you miss some guys, but during the summer we go do some golf tournaments, we do some things."
"I'm really good friend with Riley Cote, he's one of my really good buddies," Nasty said.
"I've had him for a couple years with Phantoms then in Philly. We lived together for a little bit, my kids think he's their older brother. He's one of my best buddies."
"Some of them (the guys) are so young they feel like my kids, unfortunately I hate to say that," Nasty added with a straight face.
As the conversation neared the 20-minute mark, and usher's started to file into the empty Wells Fargo Center, it was hard to imagine Settlemyre was only a few hours away from game mode. The chill, laid back hockey fan would soon return to that bench, with a not to laid back attitude.
But that's just the way Nasty likes it.
"Man, I like the games; that's my favorite part. Just the guys, it's like a family. Game day is definitely my favorite. It never gets old."