Paulie Walnuts, Kid Henry keep Tigers on ice

by Kimber Auerbach || AHL On The Beat Archive

bri06_200.jpg The Italian mafia has been a strong underground organization throughout the metropolitan area, documented by movies and television shows such as Goodfellas and The Sopranos.

In Bridgeport, the Sound Tigers have their own Italian presence. Paul(ie) “Walnuts” Camelio, the head equipment manager, and Chris “The Kid Henry” Carbone, one of Camelio’s assistants are part of the Sound Tigers underground locker-room crew that keeps the players and coaches performing on and off the ice.

The nicknames originate from associate coach Jack Capuano, also known as “Cappy,” part of the Sound Tigers’ underground himself with his Italian roots.

According to Camelio, “Cappy” is the most superstitious member of the Sound Tigers team. Throughout the Sound Tigers’ recent winning streaks, Capuano could be seen eating only a bowl of soup for lunch, executing the same gym workout and tying his skates the same way he did on day one of the winning streak.

“Every year I like to come up with nicknames for each member of the team,” Capuano said. “Paulie’s last name is Camelio and that is thick Italian. As Paulie always has his sidekick with him, I just started calling him Walnuts from The Sopranos. In the movie Goodfellas, Paulie is the leader and his sidekick is The Kid Henry. Thus, Carbone became The Kid Henry.”

“Paulie” is the leader in the locker room when it comes to keeping things in order and making sure each player’s equipment is just right. Throughout the hockey season, Camelio is at the arena by 7 a.m. preparing for the team’s morning skate. Once the skate is over, he tends to the player’s needs, from the row of skates piled in front of his desk ready for sharpening to sewing an extra piece of padding onto a goalie’s glove.

These tasks are completed early as possible so all player’s gear is hung in their respective stalls before they step foot into the locker room for the game that night.

“I try to accommodate these guys to the best of my ability,” Camelio said. “Sometimes their requests are out of my control but I try to do my best. They’re professional athletes so I look forward to helping them succeed on the ice.”

At approximately 4 p.m., the players start arriving at the arena for the game. This is when Camelio likes to keep his schedule clear for emergency situations, like a rivet popping or a lace hole ripping.

Camelio learned all of these skills growing up playing hockey in Rochester, N.Y. He played youth through high school hockey, with and against players such as Marty Reasoner and long-time friends, brothers Brian and Stephen Gionta. Working in the AHL has given Camelio the unique experience of watching his childhood friend, Stephen Gionta, play professional hockey for the Lowell Devils.

However, the most enjoyable part of his job is seeing players move up from the Sound Tigers to the New York Islanders.

“I take great pride in making a suggestion on a certain skate or recommending a different curve for a stick,” Camelio said. “Anything that I do for them and their career is very limited. It is all about their work ethic and desire. My role is to make sure their equipment will not fail them.”

A self-proclaimed rink rat, Camelio attended Rochester Americans games as a kid and became friends with Pete Rogers, the equipment manager for Rochester, and now with the Nashville Predators. “Pete taught me a tremendous amount of what I use with the Sound Tigers,” Camelio said.

With the various jobs Camelio provides to the Sound Tigers, he could not be successful without his assistants – Kevin Putzig, Zack Yannes, Chris Carbone, Anthony Ciambriello and Jay Fruzia. Sound Tigers goalie Wade Dubielewicz credits Camelio and his staff for the time they spend at the rink preparing for practice and games.

“They are pretty impressive,” Dubielewicz said. “They can sew just about anything or whip up gadgets that protect parts of my body that I didn’t know were exposed until I got hit there. The talents they possess are impressive.”

The most important skill an equipment manager must have is skate sharpening. Camelio mastered this skill at the age of 21 and has been sharpening for the past 13 years. Jeremy Colliton, a Sound Tigers alternate captain who has been a call-up of the Islanders this season, knows his skates are in good hands when Camelio works on them. “If I lose an edge in a practice or game, I’m all over him,” Colliton said with a laugh. “I place a big emphasis on my 7/8’s hollow, which is really shallow, compared to other guys. It’s nice he has patience to work with me to find the right combination to help me play well.”

With “Walnuts” and his gang, the Sound Tigers hope to whack a few more teams this season and make a strong push at capturing their first Calder Cup.