From SEEM to the Stanley Cup: How Jason Berger ’07 Found His Route to the NHL

A day in the life of an NHL equipment manager is a long one, especially on game day.

Jason Berger ’07 — a JWU Sports, Entertainment, Event — Management (SEEM) alum and current assistant equipment manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning — knows a thing or two about those long days. 

“My game day starts at 5:30am when I arrive at Amalie Arena. I make my way through the dressing room preparing everything for the staff and players' arrival for morning skate and meetings,” Berger shared. From there, he makes sure the team’s laundry is cleaned, assists the visiting team with their laundry and bench set up, and prepares the dressing room before players return for game time.

“My pre-game routine consists of making sure all the supplies are stocked, set up benches, organize the bench spares and be sure the players have everything they need. Game time arrives and anything can happen from equipment breaking to skates needing to be sharpened.” After the game, Berger remains at the arena to clear the bench, do the team laundry and store everything in its proper place. His day that began at 5:30am doesn’t end until 1am.

Jason Berger preparing the Tampa Bay bench before a game

With the responsibility of all the equipment, jerseys, skates and sticks for 20+ players, an NHL equipment manager is a crucial (and often overlooked) part of the team. But, the hard work becomes worth it when the team wins the ultimate prize in hockey: the Stanley Cup. 

Of course, this year’s NHL season and playoffs were quite different than any other thanks to COVID-19. After pausing the season in March, the NHL returned in May with a “bubble” plan to place teams in two hub cities, administer daily COVID testing, confine players and staff to their hotels, and play without fans in the stands. But, despite all these challenges, the team found ways to stay busy (and sane) with tennis, ping pong, golf simulators and other activities.

“Being away from family and friends was the hardest part about being in the bubble, [but] our focus was always on the final prize of winning the Stanley Cup,” Berger said. That focus brought them all the way to the finals, where they defeated the Dallas Stars in Game 6.

Jason Berger with hockey sticks during a Tampa Bay gameBANNER PHOTO AND ABOVE PHOTO BY SCOTT AUDETTE

“The moment the [game] clock struck 00:00 it was a bit of a blur,” Berger said. “As a kid dreaming of winning the Stanley Cup, you never really know what it will feel like when the time comes. In that moment, I just grabbed onto whoever was near me and we simultaneously jumped and screamed pure joy. Lifting the Stanley Cup is indescribable. It very well might be the lightest 35lbs I’ve ever lifted.”

As he mentioned, Berger’s dream of winning the Stanley Cup goes back to his childhood. “I started skating at the age of 2 and began playing organized hockey at the age of 5 in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” he shared.  “I had always dreamed of playing in the NHL and scoring the game-winning goal to win the Stanley Cup; however, when I realized that becoming a professional hockey player was not in the cards I knew I had to find another route into the NHL.”   

An image on the left of Jason Berger as a child in hockey gear and an image on the right with Berger as an adult holding the Stanley CupTHEN AND NOW: (LEFT) BERGER AS A CHILD IN HIS HOCKEY GEAR. (RIGHT) BERGER WITH THE STANLEY CUP AFTER TAMPA BAY'S WIN.

That route became clear when Berger discovered JWU’s SEEM program while visiting his older brother, who was a JWU Culinary Arts student at the Providence Campus. After touring the campus and downtown Providence, Berger knew immediately that JWU and the SEEM program would be perfect for him. 

His time at JWU proved invaluable to his career. “Facilities Management was an excellent class learning the back of the house and how buildings run. As an equipment manager, I’ve worked very closely with the back-of-house staff with load-in and load-out of teams, along with dressing room availability for the incoming teams.” 

But, the JWU experience that stood out to him the most was his externship with the Providence Bruins, an American Hockey League (AHL) team that develops players for the NHL’s Boston Bruins. “That externship sparked my career,” Berger said.

Jason Berger adjusting a Bruin's player's visor before a gamePHOTO BY ALAN SULLIVAN

His career would take him all over the country to work with teams from the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) as a head equipment manager. With the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, he won the coveted Kelly Cup before returning to the Providence Bruins for five years as their head equipment manager. Then, he finally had a chance to get his foot in the door of the NHL when the opportunity with Tampa Bay opened up.

Now, with three NHL seasons and a Stanley Cup under his belt, Berger has found a way to achieve his childhood dream. He looks forward to his day with the cup and the upcoming season. With all the uncertainty surrounding the SEEM industry, he offers this advice to students:

“Make sure to network and follow up communication after meeting or interviewing. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Be assertive but not overwhelming. It might be a bit cliché but, always be yourself.” 

BELOW: BERGER AND FORMER PROVIDENCE CAMPUS PRESIDENT IRVING SCHNEIDER, PH.D.Jason Berger and former JWU Providence Campus President Irving Schneider pose with Berger's JWU diploma