One would think that winning three straight Central Hockey League Equipment Manager of the Year awards would go to a guy’s head.
Not so with Romeo Vivit of the Rapid City Rush.
If anything, Vivit remains ever humble after the CHL honored him again this year with the award named for Ken “Gunner” Garrett, who worked 4,000 games in a 50-year pro hockey equipment manager career.
“It’s flattering to get that recognition from the guys I work with throughout the league. They all work very hard and do what they do. We all put in the hours to get things done to be able to take care of the guys,” said Vivit, who finished first in balloting among the league’s gear gurus with 24 points, including half of the first-place votes cast by his colleagues.
Arizona’s Bryan Connor finished second with 12 votes.
The humble Vivit exemplifies the qualities needed to be a successful equipment manager of a professional sports team: the capacity for arduous hours of seemingly endless detail-oriented work, with perfection the only goal.
“It’s kind of strange with the three years I’ve won the award I always feel I could have done better. I’m always pushing myself to do better the next year than I did the previous year, so it’s always kind of bittersweet to get the award,” Vivit said.
Vivit, 42, is far too modest a guy to toot his own horn, so it falls to teammates and coaches to sing his praises.
“If guys need something done that might not be normal with the standard equipment, boom, he figures out a way to get it done,” Rush head coach Joe Ferras said. “Romeo doesn’t bring problems, he brings solutions."
Current Rush players Damian Surma and Justin Sawyer took note last year just how quick Vivit is to help players, even those on opposing teams.
“When I was with Wichita, a couple of our guys on our team didn’t have sticks and Romeo gave them sticks. He always makes sure you have everything you need,” Sawyer said.
Surma recalled a classic Vivit moment he experienced while skating with the now-defunct Dayton Gems.
“My skates were not very good. [Gems teammate] Brett Lutes told Romeo, and he came in and grabbed my skates," Surma said. “They were like a new pair of skates.”
Rush athletic trainer Bobby Moore, who finished second to Arizona’s Vince Fedorowich in voting for the CHL Trainer of the Year Award, said Vivit's quest for perfection starts — literally — from his first waking moment.
“He wants everything done right and neat. I’ve never seen anyone carry that over when we’re on the road at the hotel. First thing he does after he gets up is make up his own bed. He does it better than the housekeepers do,” Moore said.
Rush equipment managers have earned the Garrett award four of the last five years.
The league named Rapid City’s Shawn “Stixy” Smith the winner of the award during the Rush’s inaugural season in 2008-09.
Vivit, a native of Park Ridge, Ill., who earned a degree in athletic training from National American University, was director of hockey at Roosevelt Ice Arena.
The Rush invited him to skate for a roster spot during training camp that first season; later he became an assistant to Smith.
Vivit took over as full-time equipment manager the following season when Smith moved up to the expansion Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League.
Rush players have come to depend on Vivit’s work ethic during a grueling six-month, 66-game schedule that includes brutal overnight road trips of up to 20 hours.
“We get in at six or seven in the morning and he’s still got an eight-hour day to put in cleaning and fixing everything up. A lot of things they do is behind the scenes and doesn’t get mentioned,” goaltender Danny Battochio said.
Vivit said he had an offer to move up to an American Hockey League team as an assistant equipment manager for the Oklahoma City Barons following the Rush’s CHL championship year in 2010.
“I declined it because I consider Rapid City to be my home. My family is in the area and I want to be able to be close to my family as well as work in a sport that I’m very passionate about in Rapid City,” Vivit said.
Rush players say they consider Vivit a vital part of the team. “It’s going to be a weird day if I ever have to play hockey and 'Romes' isn’t the equipment manager. I’ve been pretty spoiled,” Rush defenseman Riley Weselowski said. “Romeo’s the man.”
Vivit may be "the man" when it comes to keeping Rush players well-equipped and on the ice, but he is quick to thank others for giving him the chance to work in the game he loves.
"I’m grateful to my family for giving me the values of work hard and work smart and do your job to the best of your ability every day,” Vivit said.
“Our overall goal is to bring back a championship. The team goals are more important to me than the individual goals."