by Pat Salvas || AHL On The Beat Archive
It’s a long journey to work your way up through the ranks of professional hockey.
No one knows that better than Bridgeport Sound Tigers equipment manager Joe Franke and team athletic trainer John Sullo. These two men are part of a special fraternity that makes sure players, who are on that same journey, are taken care of and are as much a part of the tradition of the hockey as the players that take the ice.
Franke has been part of the game for the better part of three decades. Starting his hockey career with his hometown Fort Wayne Komets, he served as the team’s head equipment manager and trainer in the 1977-78 season. After a few years, he moved on to the Indianapolis Checkers of the Central Hockey League, starting his connection with the New York Islanders organization, as they were the minor-league affiliate at the time.
After moving on from the Checkers he began a four-year stint with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, who were at the time the Pittsburgh Penguins’ affiliate. During the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Penguins called upon Franke to assist with the team’s equipment needs giving him the opportunity to take part in the team’s Stanley Cup championship, a moment Franke says is the tops in his career.
That championship may have been the top moment but there is definitely a close second in his books. It was a December night in 2002 that Franke is remembered most for, in Fort Wayne, Ind. In the wake of winning the Cup with Pittsburgh, Franke returned to the Komets to resume his duties as head equipment manager. No stranger to suiting up as the backup goalie in case of an injury, it was not until Dec. 14, 2002 that he saw the ice from a different perspective.
Franke was called upon after starting goalie Pokey Reddick was too ill to continue with a little more than 11 minutes remaining in a 1-1 game against the Elmira Jackals. Joe stopped four of six shots in regulation and three of four in the shootout that followed, including an acrobatic glove save on Aaron Phillips.
The name “1-0 Joe” has been with him since that night and had even been made into a T-shirt sold by the team in honor of his historic night.
Franke shies away from the name and seems much happier talking about the hot dogs and Mountain Dews he was drinking on the bench before he was tapped on his shoulder to put his mask on and get between the pipes. Maybe that is the true legend behind “1-0 Joe”, a man who knows his place in the game and is happy as a part of the team in literally, any capacity asked of him.
The other cog in the Sound Tigers locker-room machine is Sullo. A Branford, Conn., native, Sullo is in his third season with the Sound Tigers and, like Franke, is no stranger to the lifestyle that comes with minor league hockey. Starting as a stick-boy and assistant equipment manager with the AHL’s Beast of New Haven in 1997, Sullo developed a passion for the game that he has carried throughout his days with the Sound Tigers.
A 2001 graduate of Southern Connecticut State University in the field of athletic training, Sullo went on to work for the New Haven Knights before taking a job with Port Huron of the UHL. This is the place where Sullo remembers that “lifestyle” best. He reminisces of one road trip in particular when the lug nuts on the back wheel of the team bus had almost come off completely before they were able to pull over and remedy the problem.
His next stop was a short stint at Boston University that Sullo claims helped re-ignite his passion for the job because he was able to work with more than just the average hockey injuries. After his stay at BU, Sullo headed to upstate New York where he worked under the new ownership of ESPN commentators Steve Levy and Barry Melrose’s with the UHL’s Adirondack Frostbite. As the head trainer of the Frostbite, Sullo claims he was molded into the professional that he is today.
The very next season, Sullo stumbled upon an opening with the Sound Tigers and jumped at the opportunity to move closer to home and work in the AHL, one step from the highest level.
Sullo and Franke crossed paths in the minors and had remained in contact over the years.
“I may not talk to some of the other guys for a month or two,” Sullo said, “but whenever we cross paths at games, it is like we never stopped talking.
“It’s a brotherhood between all the medical and equipment guys in the league and I feel lucky to be part of it.”