JOHN HEWITT/Special to Bullet News
The Niagara IceDogs are in their fifth season in the Garden City. During that time, many IceDogs’ players, coaches, executives and other personnel have been interviewed at length by the media. Many, that is, with the exception of one of the most visible and entertaining members of the IceDogs’ organization. That would be Bones.
Now, that is a doggone shame.
To remedy this oversight, recently I sat down with Bones to discuss his role with the IceDogs. It was time to get up close and personal with the popular team mascot.
Bones is played by a six-foot, 245-pound St. Catharines native who previously was a mascot named “Bruiser” for the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. In the summer he is the mascot at the Merrittville Speedway.
What does Bones do to prepare for an IceDogs’ home game? Well, he has been following the same routine for the nearly five years that he has been the club’s mascot.
Bones arrives at Jack Gatecliff Arena about 4:30 p.m. and goes to his own dressing room where he sets out his outfit for the evening. “I’m a perfectionist when it comes to game days. I don’t miss anything,” said Bones.
Around 5 p.m. he heads for the Founders’ Club for something to eat and then goes to the IceDogs’ office to check the birthday list and sign the cards. He notes where each birthday person will be sitting so he can deliver the cards in person during the game. He also checks to see if any tickets he has set aside for friends and relatives are available.
At 6 p.m. he’s back in his dressing room ready to put on an outfit that will make him 6-foot-8 inches tall when he wears his skates. It takes about 20 minutes to get dressed in the uniform that is made mostly of foam except for the hockey pants and socks. “The suit is not that heavy,” he said. The outfit is made by Loonie Times of Toronto, a firm that specializes in making mascot uniforms.
It’s very hot wearing the mascot uniform and seeing everything from the large mascot head can be a problem. For long distances he looks through the mascot’s nose. His own head can move inside the mascot’s head, but there are blind spots when looking through the mascot’s teeth.
“It took forever to get used to running around that rink without killing myself,” Bones said.
If any part of his uniform is damaged, Bones has all the tools at home that he needs to make changes. “I repair mascots on the side for other companies,” he said.
In the dressing room with Bones before game time is his handler, Tim, who accompanies Bones throughout the evening.” He’s my bodyguard/controller,” Bones explained. “Drunks can get nasty. They think it’s funny to try pushing me down the stairs. It’s not funny.”
According to Bones there are two cardinal rules for mascots. “No. 1 is that you don’t talk (in public) unless it is necessary. Rule No. 2 in mascot land is that if there is a camera, get in front of it.”
At 6.53 p.m. Bones leaves the dressing room and jumps on the ice, skating around the arena with his “Go Dogs Go” flag until the IceDogs appear. When the opening ceremonies begin, he is present at centre ice along with any guests who are asked to drop the puck.
For the rest of the evening he works the crowd. The kids love him and try to get his attention. Bones carries a marker and will autograph almost everything put in front of him.
There is no script, but there are some specific times when he has to appear on the ice.
“Everything depends on what team is in the building.
If I have a past history with a team, things change.
It’s all me,” he said. “I just go with whatever happens, like harassing the other team, which has gotten me in some trouble.”
It is not uncommon for the visiting team to complain about some of Bone’s antics, like climbing the glass and wagging his tail in the direction of the visiting team’s bench. Or throwing popcorn at the visiting team’s fans in section J during the game.
Sometimes the opposition club gets physical. “I’ve had players from the opposing team take swipes at me with their sticks,” he said. “I love getting players teed off at me. I would do it for free.
“I’m not your typical mascot that just waves to people. I’m absolutely great with kids. I change my personality depending on who the person is. That’s why everybody loves Bones, except the opposing teams.”
Between periods you may see Bones refereeing a minor hockey game or just cavorting around the ice during a game or some contest taking place on the ice.
When the game is over, Bones is done. “I’m in my room dying,” said Bones, who is usually covered with sweat.
As for Bone’s personal highlights on the job, he has two that he won’t forget. No. 1 is wearing a red OHL sweater waving the Canadian flag right over the Russian bench during the OHL All-Stars vs Russian All-Stars game played on November 24, 2008 at Jack Gatecliff Arena. The game was televised nationally by Sportsnet.
No. 2 is playing in his first mascots games. Mascot games are held at the ACC in Toronto in January and are hosted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Different mascots from a wide variety of sports compete- in their uniforms- in different games like mascot bowling, t-shirt tossing, and musical chairs.
“The lower bowl of the ACC is packed every year. I’ve been on the winning team three years in a row,” Bones recalled.
Bones is a freelance, full-time IceDogs’ mascot, who not only appears at all IceDogs home games, but makes up to six personal appearances at charity events, schools and other special occasions during the week. He gets paid per appearance with expenses.” The IceDogs treat me very well,” he said.
“I have a great relationship with the iceDogs’ owners (Bill and Denise Burke). They are beyond the best, absolutely amazing people.
The feeling from the IceDogs’ owners is mutual.
“We love Bones and we couldn’t have a better person act as the mascot for us. When we were creating the character, we strongly wanted to emphasize a “kid friendly” mascot, so we were very careful to ensure he did not look scary. The way Bones interacts with children is nothing short of genius and exactly how we had envisioned Bones to act,” IceDogs president Denise Burke said.
And why does the man who takes on the role of a mascot do what he does?
“It’s fun. It’s almost one of those things that was like on my bucket list. I know when the opportunity came up, I jumped all over it,” Bones said.
If you think that you are going to find out more personal information about Bones from this article, you’re barking up the wrong tree. After his interview, I promised Bones that I would keep his real identity a secret. If I revealed his name, the mascots’ brotherhood would blacklist me for life. No writer wants that.