ROBERT “RIP” SIMONICK
Buffalo native Robert “Rip” Simonick is a living history of hockey in Buffalo. His career started in 1964 when he and his brother Paul went to work as stick boys for the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League. While attending Buffalo State College, Rip worked as a rink guard at Front Park where Seymour H. Knox III would drop his children off for Simonick to watch while he went to the office. In 1970 Rip was hired by Punch Imlach to join the newly formed Buffalo Sabres equipment staff running errands and doing grunt work for legendary trainer and fellow Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Frank Christie.
Rip quickly worked his way up to equipment manager and over the past 44 years no one in the Sabres organization has had a greater influence on the hundreds of players that have worn a Sabres sweater than Rip Simonick. He is the last original Sabres employee and his far reaching impact has been felt both on and off the ice in Buffalo and throughout the NHL.
In the locker room, Simonick took great care in knowing the preferences and habits of each of his players. He knew what each needed and would use whatever tools he could to make their job on the ice easier. When Pat LaFontaine suffered a broken jaw, it was Simonick who designed the protective shield that would allow him to return to the ice. When goalie Bob Sauve’s mask went missing on a road trip, Simonick put together a new one for him that he would use for the rest of his career. Together with Dominik Hasek, Simonick pioneered the skate sharpening parameters for goalies that are still used throughout the NHL today.
Off the ice Simonick is most commonly described by those that know him as a father figure to his players and one of the single most important people in the Sabres organization. Sabres broadcaster Kevin Sylvester described him by saying, “Before there were team psychologists, there was Rip Simonick.” Players from every era have described him as someone they could talk to, someone who made them feel comfortable, and who helped make their transition to the NHL easier.
Whether it is re-sharpening skates that don’t feel quite right or offering a supportive word at the right moment, Simonick has a keen sense for understanding what each player is going through. Rob Ray said of Simonick, “He did what he had to do to get his players ready and comfortable with their equipment so they could perform their best. But that doesn’t compare to what he did for the guys away from the game. He is a friend, a father figure, to hundreds of guys that have come through the Sabres doors.”
To this day, you can find Rip Simonick toiling away behind the scenes in the Sabres locker room and on the bench. He is the longest tenured equipment manager in the NHL and has worked over 3,400 games. He has served on staff for three NHL All-Star games, two Stanley Cup Finals and is a member of the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame. He is revered among Sabres players past and present as the unsung hero that has kept the team together through the years.