The Boston Bruins have a secret weapon and it comes from a place you would not expect to find it.
You've probably never heard the name Matt Falconer before but you can be that every single player on the Bruins roster is very familiar with him. The reason that fans will not know him is due to the fact that Falconer works as the team's assistant equipment manager, not exactly a role that usually leads to glitz and glamour, even at the level of the National Hockey League. Falconer however has become an integral part of what the Bruins do on a nightly basis and in fact the Bruins believes he gives them a rather unexpected advantage over their competition.
You see during the game it is Falconer's job to find and produce a replacement stick when a Bruins player has just broken his on the ice. Now you may be asking yourself, well that's not that special is it? You'd be right it is not all that special, every team in the entire National Hockey League has a person assigned to perform this exact task but what the Bruins believes makes Falconer so special is the speed at which he executes the swaps.
“He’s the quickest,” boasted Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak in comments to The Athletic. “Matty’s up there. He’s on top of it. He’s watching and the next thing you know he’s learning over the boards and handing out the stick. It reminds me of Formula 1 when they go to pit stop; you have to be fast and he’s kind of like that.”
It seems more than just an entirely subjective outlook from the Bruins as well as there have been several recent examples in which Falconer's quick reactions have led to points on the ice and even in the overall standings for the regular season. Over the week-end the Bruins just barely managed to squeak past the Ottawa Senators with a win in a one goal game, but if not for Falconer the outcome could have been different. During an early power play Bruins veteran Brad Marchand had snapped his stick, but before he even got back to the bench Falvoner was leaning over reaching out to him with a new stick, a stick he then used to score just seconds later.
Even Marchand acknowledged that Falconer was unusually fast for someone in his position.
“He’s got a gift,” Marchand said. “He gets back there quick. He knows where they’re at and gets them up to us.”
Young Bruins center Danton Heinen shared a similar story, again where a goal likely would not have happened if not for Falconer's unnaturally quick reaction time.
“I remember breaking my stick and I was heading to the bench,” Heinen recalled. “I was going to come off and the guys were yelling, ‘3-on-2, 3-on-2.’ Matty had it ready, so it was perfect. I went straight backdoor and (Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson) made a nice backhand pass to me and I was lucky enough to put it in. It was a fun one, for sure. I love seeing (Falconer) get some credit.”
So how does he make it all happen? Well Falconer opened up to The Athletic and revealed that he barely even looks at the sticks at all, and instead focuses on a much more unique aspect of each players preference.
“I memorize everybody’s tape job on their handle,” explained Falconer. “That’s how I identify it so quickly, because (tape jobs) are so unique and so personalized to each player. It’s quicker for me to look back and see the tape job, rather than a name on a stick.”
It's a brilliant strategy, one that Falconer says he combines with the sounds on the ice. Those sounds, after years of experience in his role, have become recognizable to Falconer and he can tell when a shot breaks a stick and when one does not, giving him more time to react and get a stick ready for the Bruins player in need.
He likely will never be recognized by fans for what he contributes to the team, but it is nice to see that the Bruins players have come to respect just how vital he has been at times for them this season.