The Paul DeFazio that is joining the Pittsburgh Penguins as an assistant equipment manager is different from the person he was five years ago.
DeFazio, 40, worked in the same capacity with Pittsburgh from 2001-13 until he left to join Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as head equipment manager, essentially swapping with roles Teddy Richards.
Spending the last five years as the main equipment manager with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton taught DeFazio a lot about the job, and he’s heading back to Pittsburgh for a second stint with more experience and knowledge under his belt.
“My experience in Wilkes-Barre has been invaluable,” said DeFazio, who was officially added to Pittsburgh’s equipment staff on Friday. “When you’re the head guy, there’s a lot more responsibility and you’re dealing more with the business aspects of the job. That’s what I wanted.”
To gain that experience, DeFazio made a career move that was unusual. He spent the first 16 years of his career with Pittsburgh in the NHL, beginning when he was 18.
Five years ago, DeFazio decided to leave the NHL to come to Wilkes-Barre because he wanted to experience the other side of the job as head equipment manager.
“A lot of equipment people start off in the lower leagues and it is unusual for someone to leave the NHL as I did,” DeFazio said. “But I knew exactly what I was doing and I don’t regret it for a second.”
Now that DeFazio is leaving, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has already started the process of filling his role and a replacement is expected to be named soon.
The second stint with Pittsburgh not only reunites DeFazio with familiar faces at the NHL club, but brings him back home to Peters Township where he grew up.
During DeFazio’s first stint with Pittsburgh, he won a Stanley Cup ring with the Penguins in 2009, and he was also on the staff when the team made a Cup Final appearance in 2008. He also worked with the top-four offensive threats in Pens’ history – Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jaromir Jagr.
While his goal is to be the head equipment manager with an NHL team one day, DeFazio is appreciative of the fact that he has spent his entire career with one organization.
“I was lucky to start off in the NHL and fortunate to stay with the Pittsburgh organization. That will help make this transition easier,” DeFazio said.
He also acknowledged that the move to Pittsburgh carries on a long-standing trend of not only players, but coaches and staff that have made the move from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to Pittsburgh.
“I’d be surprised if there’s another minor league team that has had so many people go to the NHL. That’s a tribute to (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton CEO) Jeff Barrett and his entire staff,” DeFazio said.
While working with the likes of Crosby and Malkin will surely create many new memories for DeFazio, he gained plenty of lasting experiences with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. It was a thrill to be with a team that made the postseason every year, he said, and it was an special honor to work with one player in particular.
“Tom Kostopoulos,” DeFazio said. “Just the kind of person and captain he was and how he treated everyone was special. Working with him is my most memorable experience with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky