On Thursday, the pair of Tampa Bay staff members will once again stand at opposite ends of a bench, attending to the top American hockey players when Team USA opens play against Slovakia in the men’s Olympic hockey tournament in Sochi, Russia.
“This is a great opportunity for them and we are thrilled that USA Hockey called and offered them the position,’’ said Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who is also the executive director for Team Canada.
“They both have very good reputations around the league and in USA hockey, and it’s a great honor for them. We are very happy for them, (USA Hockey) is trying to bring their best people and we are thrilled they chose our guys.’’
Mulligan and Thill serve the type of supporting roles that go unnoticed, ensuring players are taken care of so they can perform their best on the ice.
“They do all the hard work behind the scenes and that’s what makes this organization successful, or any organization,’’ said Tampa Bay defenseman Sami Salo, a member of Team Finland for the fourth time. “You just basically have to show up to the rink and put your gear on. Those guys take a lot of pride in what they do, so we appreciate all that they do.’’
A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Mulligan was the head athletic trainer with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League for four years before joining the Lightning prior to the 2002-03 season. He has worked with USA Hockey on three other occasions, at the 2004 World Junior Evaluation camp and the 2008 and 2012 World Championships.
Hooked on the Olympics after watching the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the native of New Bedford, Mass., watched as much of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as he could from afar with his father, John. The two had one of those “what if’’ conversations about Mulligan one day being a part of the Olympic experience.
John Mulligan passed away in June. On the day of the funeral, June 21, Mulligan received a call from Yzerman saying Jim Johansson from USA Hockey had asked permission to speak to Mulligan about serving as the medical trainer for the U.S. Olympic team.
“It was pretty special to get that phone call ... and it comes on the day of my dad’s funeral, so it was like, ‘I wonder where that came from,’” Mulligan said. “And this is the biggest stage for our sport, so it’s pretty special to be a part of.’’
Thill has been involved in hockey since he was in high school in Chicago, when he worked at a pro shop. That led to a job as equipment manager for the Chicago Wolves of the now-defunct International Hockey league, where he won a Turner Cup in 1997-98 before moving on to the Detroit Vipers in the IHL, a franchise owned by Bill Davidson.
When Davidson purchased the Lightning in 1999, Thill was hired as the equipment manager in Tampa Bay.
In addition to working the 2012 All-Star game in Ottawa — along with assistant equipment managers Rob Kennedy and Clay Roffer — Thill has worked for USA Hockey at the 2008, 2009 and 2012 World Championships.
Being a part of the Olympics is the highlight.
“I am extremely honored to do this, for sure,’’ Thill said. “I love doing (the job for USA hockey), I really do, getting to meet different people, it’s pretty fun.’’
After working together with the Lightning for more than a decade, the two get to share in the Olympic experience.
“We work well together, I’m excited for him,’’ Thill said. “It’s going to be really neat.’’
Mulligan echoed that feeling.
“This is our 12th year working together,’’ he said, “so to be able to share the whole experience will be pretty cool.’’