Mike Gapski, the Blackhawks' head athletic trainer, got quite the surprise when he showed up at the team's practice on Monday at Fifth Third Arena. Following a 5-3 win over a hot Minnesota Wild team the night before, the Hawks players, coaches and members of the front office we were huddled around a shiny new, red jet ski waiting for Gapski.
The gift was a thank you from the organization to the longest tenured athletic trainer in the NHL, who worked his 2,500th game on Thursday (5-2 loss in Arizona). It was the Chicago native's lifelong dream to work for his hometown NHL club.
"That was pretty cool," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said of Monday's spectacle. "I didn't know a jet ski would make 'Gapper emotional, but I think he likes life out at the lake in the summer. He likes to get out there, so it's a nice little toy for him to enjoy and it'd be nice to see the big guy ripping around on that thing, getting some rays."
Gapski got his dream job in 1987 shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago. His contributions have been appreciated by the Blackhawks players behind the scenes for the past 33 years.
"You can almost take their service for granted," Toews said of athletic trainers. "Anything you need they're on it. They're working so hard every single day just to make your life a little bit easier.
"The best thing you can do is take a step back and realize how lucky you are to just not only play hockey but have genuine people like 'Gapper do everything he can to make this team better. Fans and people that watch the game don't realize how vital they are to how things work every single day and especially on the ice too."
"It's funny – time goes by so fast," Duncan Keith said. "I was drafted here when I was 18 years old and I remember 'Gapper at my first prospect camp. It's been a lot of the same guys here.
"We've got a great training staff and Gapper's the head guy in that regard. They do a great job. We're lucky to have a guy like that. He keeps it loose and it brightens your day up when you get to see him. [We] talk a lot over the years and get to know each other and it's been a lot of fun with him."
"Gapper, Gappity, Frank, Mike Gapski, thank you so much for all the years that you've put in to the Chicago Blackhawks training staff," Patrick Sharp said in a special message to Gapski during the broadcast of his 2,500th game. "Countless players have come through the organization, nobody's got a bad thing to say about you. 2,500 games, that's no joke. How about we do another 2,500?
"Congratulations on all your success. I came to Chicago in 2005 as a young man, spent my whole adult life with having you taking care of me at the rink, so thank you for everything over the years. All the best to you and your family, Frank."
"Hey Frank, congratulations - 2,500 games standing behind the bench for our Chicago Blackhawks," Eddie Olczyk also said on the broadcast. "A tremendous honor, congratulations to you and your family. One thing I love about you, Frank, is you're the same guy today as you were back in the late '90s when we were working together when I was still a player. So congratulations and here's to another 2,500 more."
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Blackhawks surprise head athletic trainer Mike Gapski with jet ski originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago