Penn State graduate oversees pro hockey team

Elmira Jackals assistant general manager Jared Abbott calls a game. Abbott, 23, is a 2013 Penn State graduate who helps oversee hockey operations for the affiliate of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and AHL’s Rochester Americans.
Elmira Jackals assistant general manager Jared Abbott calls a game. Abbott, 23, is a 2013 Penn State graduate who helps oversee hockey operations for the affiliate of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and AHL’s Rochester Americans. Photo provided

The Elmira Jackals hockey team registered 116 penalty minutes in a game earlier this month after a five-on-five, on-ice brawl in the third period against the Wichita Thunder.

It was a fight that almost included a goaltender battle between Elmira’s Travis Fullerton and Wichita’s Tyler Bunz, who met at center ice.

For Penn State graduate Jared Abbott, who called the game, it was the most exciting moment of his night.

“It’s a full yard sale on the ice — helmets, sticks, gloves, you name it,” Abbott said, describing the gear left on the ice from the fight as players were being ejected from the game.

Some gear was even thrown into the stands at First Arena in downtown Elmira, N.Y.

“The only problem is, we didn’t get to see the goalies go at it,” Abbott said. “From a selfish point of view, I’m a little upset that you didn’t get to see the goalies go at it.”

Two referees raced down the ice to keep them from dropping the gloves. Bunz shoved linesman Ray King in an attempt to get after Fullerton, who met him between the blue lines.

When the game ended there were 218 combined penalty minutes, according to team statistics.

But these games are where Abbott finds his safe haven, he said — even among all the commotion.

The 2013 Penn State graduate sets up his domain in a closed area near the press box of First Arena and commentates Jackals games without the responsibility of doing much else but broadcast the play-by-play.

It’s his favorite part of the job, Abbott said.

Dream job

In June, Abbott found himself in a situation few 23-year-olds ever would — as assistant general manager of hockey operations for the Elmira Jackals.

The Jackals are one of 28 teams in the ECHL — formerly called the East Coast Hockey League. It’s a professional, developmental league affiliated with the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres and the American Hockey League‘s Rochester Americans.

Abbott graduated with degrees in broadcast journalism and psychology.

“I’m fortunate to pursue my passion and to have succeeded as rapidly as it’s been,” Abbott said. “I put a high expectation on myself and a lot of pressure on myself to succeed.”

However, because the team doesn’t have a general manager, Abbott’s duties are similar to what a GM would do, minus the title, he said.

“I think there needed to be room to move up,” Abbott said with a laugh. “I’m not sure they could have just made me GM.”

With a population of about 29,000, Abbott said, Elmira is the smallest market with a professional hockey team.

Movin’ on up

Abbott started as an intern for the organization in June 2013.

He generated nightly game notes and player biographies and created the team’s first records book. He also hosted intermission reports, player interviews and postgame commentary with coaches and managed the team’s social media accounts.

By April, Abbott had been named director of broadcasting and media relations, replacing Ray Schmitt, a fellow Penn State graduate, who left for a job in Indiana.

There, Abbott broadcast play-by-plays, intermission reports, player interviews and post-game commentary, along with collecting nightly game notes, handling social media accounts and writing news releases and game recaps.

Two months later, he was made second-in-command of the organization, answering to league administration and former Jackals owners Nate Cook and Tom Freeman, who donated the team to the Elmira community in September.

But Abbott is instrumental in handling daily hockey operations.

“I’m the first in and the last out,” Abbott said. “They joke and say I’m married to my work, and my mistress is my work.”

Even without a media relations director, Abbott still performs his old duties, in addition to other administrative work including overseeing player salaries and transactions between the leagues.

“He’s kind of a one-man show, and a good right-hand man to have around,” said Jackals first-year coach Jamie Russell. “He’s kind of my go-to guy when we have questions about player contracts, paperwork and making sure those international players are good to go.”

Call of duty

Blood from defenseman Steven Shamanski’s lip dripped on the ice of First Arena after it caught the glove of Jackals teammate Andrew Conboy — who was looking to throw down at a morning hockey practice last month.

“This is not what I wanted on a Monday,” Shamanski said after he sustained a fat lip.

Situations like that take Abbott’s job beyond doing paperwork.

“These guys have more to deal with than just hockey,” Abbott said. “I want to make sure they get out of their heads a little bit. They live together and play together, and we’ve done a good job of creating great team chemistry, even with these little scuffles on the ice. That’s just part of the game.”

Abbott said he uses his broadcasting experience to write Web updates about the team and create media relations with local newspapers and television stations.

He uses his psychology degree to interact with the players.

“I want to make sure they’re in a good mental state and help when I can,” Abbott said.

Defenseman Nick Tuzzolino and his wife, Tina, had a baby in June.

Tuzzolino said he gets little sleep, but having a guy like Abbott around makes him rest a little easier.

“It’s nice to know everyone in the organization is looking out for you,” he said.

“It’s a priority to make sure they feel like a priority, so I check in with each guy and just get the thumbs-up from them every day,” Abbott said. “My door’s always open. Some of these guys have families and (I) want to make sure things are going OK on and off the ice with their families and with the guys.”

The hockey connection

Abbott said the players are paid weekly.

The 2014-15 ECHL salary cap is $12,615 a week during the first 30 days of the season, and $12,200 for every week the remainder of the season, when the money is distributed weekly among the players.

“These guys are professional, but usually still have summer jobs to support themselves,” Abbott said.

Abbott, who grew up in Flemington, N.J., said he was part of the first New Jersey Renegades team in the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League. He then played for the Penn State Ice Lions from 2009 to 2011, but quit to focus on his studies.

He now plays in a men’s league — when work doesn’t get in the way.

“It’s a sport I love, and (I) am blessed to still be a part of the game, but in a different capacity,” he said. “Eventually I’d like to see myself as a general manager of an NHL team. I love hockey — it’s what I did my whole life — and being a GM of a major team would be my ultimate goal.”

For now, he’s happy being in Elmira, where he also handles four interns, two of whom are Penn State students.

“This organization has a funny connection to Penn State,” Abbott said. “It kind of combines my pride with Penn State with my love for hockey.”

Terry Pegula, Penn State graduate, oil tycoon, Buffalo Sabres owner and namesake of Pegula Ice Arena, is among the more notable Penn State connections. And Joe Battista, former club hockey coach and associate athletic director for ice arena and hockey operations at Penn State, is now the vice president of hockey-related business for the Sabres organization.