It used to be that several different Penguins employees handled the team's day-to-day tasks such as booking flights and hotels, arranging for meals, helping with housing, distributing tickets, renting ice time, assisting with immigration matters, overseeing the details of training camp and troubleshooting. When Ray Shero was hired as general manager in May, he decided to change that. He had worked with Frank Buonomo in Nashville and hired Buonomo as the Penguins' director of team services. Buonomo, who played club hockey at Rutgers, has worked in communications and team services in the NHL with the New York Rangers, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. He also spent two years as general manager of the Missouri River Otters of the United States Hockey League. With the Penguins, he is essentially on 24-hour call for all logistical matters and has seen his share of challenging problems. During a recent pregame warmup, he talked with the Post-Gazette's Shelly Anderson.
As a Rutgers graduate, are you disappointed the Scarlet Knights didn't finish undefeated and make a case for the Bowl Championship Series championship game?
Buonomo: It's unfortunate that they won't get to play for a national championship, but in turn, the program's on its way up. It's the first time the program has been where they are.
Things weren't very good with that football program when you were there.
Buonomo: Things were awful. I was watching the [Louisville] game and sending text messages back and forth to friends, people who went there and people I played hockey with there. To see the stadium that full is exciting. You laughed at the football program when you were there. But now it's great to see.
Now that you're here, does it amaze you that there wasn't one person doing all these things for the Penguins?
Buonomo: I think in today's game, you need one person dedicated to what this position is. In prior years, I think they overworked some folks, and there weren't enough hours in the day for some people to do their job. You have to have a lot of respect for the people who did it prior to this. Now you have one person dedicated to doing it. You go around to different rinks, and people are surprised that this position hasn't been here before.
You have experience as a minor-league GM. I'm assuming you had to do a lot of these things in that position, too.
Buonomo: It was an eye-opener. After spending 11 years working in the NHL, to work two years in the minor leagues, although it's a GM title, not only are you dealing with player issues and stuff like that, but you're helping out on the travel, you're helping out in [public relations], you're doing marketing. Players go up and down from the minor leagues, but if you've never done it from a staff perspective, you've got to give a lot of credit to the people that do it day in and day out in the minor leagues. It's really a tough time -- the bus trips, the long hours, the short staffs. You're GM of a team and you're putting up dasher boards with the rest of the staff -- and that's a true story. You do whatever it takes. I don't know if I'd want to do it again, but it really makes you value working in the NHL.
So you're better at and more productive in your job than George Costanza was with the Yankees?
Buonomo: One hundred percent more -- although I do take naps under my desk.
Did you help Evgeni Malkin's family when they visited from Russia last month?
Buonomo: Yeah, in terms of helping them with immigration and airline reservations. That's another thing -- you have to take care of not just the players, but their families, girlfriends. You want to make it friendly. You want to have an organization that you wrap your hands around.
Is there one aspect of your job that takes the biggest chunk of time?
Buonomo: Definitely the travel. Booking the travel. Following through on the travel. You have to try to stay three or four games ahead of time and stay on top of it. There's going to be problems, if it's a plane being late or a bus not showing up. It's all how you handle those problems. You have to be a step ahead of everything.
What are some of the stranger predicaments or problems you've encountered?
Buonomo: This happened with Nashville. We were playing in Chicago. I got a call about 6:30. Game time was 7. Our plane company called me and told me they just went belly-up and out of business. They were supposed to take us after the game from Chicago to Toronto on back-to-back games on our first road trip. The first thing we did was book rooms, then we called every single plane service and charter company that I knew of and I had a plane come get us first thing in the morning. We missed the morning skate, but we got there for the meal and the game.
Another one was another plane thing while I was working in Nashville. We were using the same company and plane as another team. The plane we used was supposed to come from another city and get us after the game. The plane dropped the other team off in Dallas and a truck hit the plane on the runway and severed six feet of the wing off. So, again, we had to book rooms and find another plane to get home the next morning. That year we flew, I think, every single plane company that was out there because our plane wasn't available for another six months. We had to rebook every single trip.
What about a player story?
Buonomo: During training camp this year, our [preseason] game in London, Ontario, we were flying out in the morning, and we had a player who left his passport on the bus the night before. The bus went to Toronto. I was on the phone with the bus company pretty much all night long. We finally got the dispatcher and got him to get his wife to get the passport and drive it to us. I paid her a hundred bucks.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Frank Buonomo is in a newly created position of director of team services with the Penguins.
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