TRAVERSE CITY — Aaron Case gets to come home every year for vacation.
Make that more of a working vacation.
The Kingsley native and Kent County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant spends two weeks a year in Traverse City. Sure, he gets to see family and friends. He also makes new ones.
The 50-year-old police officer leads the security team at the NHL Prospect Tournament and Detroit Red Wings Training Camp, which kicks off with public practices Friday morning at Centre Ice Arena.
Case and five of his fellow Kent County officers are on duty — while off duty — enforcing policies of the Red Wings, NHL and Centre Ice to maintain a safe and efficient environment inside and outside the rink. And they do it all for free, each using two weeks of accrued vacation to make a two-hour trip north to Traverse City and camp out while guarding camp.
“Safety and security for everyone is first and foremost,” said Case, who stays in an RV at nearby Timber Ridge Resort, making for a short three-minute commute.
The security detail of 20-25 — part of around 200 Prospect Tournament and training camp volunteers total, Centre Ice rink manager Todd Spaulding said — often works from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. during the Prospect Tournament, with shorter days for training camp.
Security arrives an hour before an events begin, with Case commonly already in the building a half hour before that.
“I don’t hunt, so it’s kind of like deer camp for me,” said Patrick Stewart, a 39-year-old Kent County Sheriff’s Deputy in his 21st year on the force, while manning the front entrance to Center Ice Arena.
This year’s changes include a different bag-search policy and Case taking over the security captain full-time from Joe McManus, who was co-captain with Case the last three years. Case said they’ve borrowed closely from the bag policies used at VanAndel Arena in Grand Rapids, home of the Red Wings’ top minor-league affiliate, and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
“These kids are here looking to impress people to get a job,” Case said of younger hockey players trying to earn spots on the big club, both in Red Wings camp and through the Prospect Tournament, which Detroit won Tuesday night. “We try to be the fence to let the fans be fans and let the hockey guys do their jobs.”
Case will also have to adjust to new general manager Steve Yzerman’s personal preferences.
“We want them coming back here,” said Case, a former three-sport athlete at Kingsley. “This is very good for the economy.”
Stewart said some of his family, including his parents and brother, come up as spectators for part of training camp as well.
Ross Stonehouse headed up security since the early days of the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City. Case took over after Stonehouse passed away in a car accident in May 2016.
“It gives me an opportunity to be here, see how real they are and getting to know these guys,” Case said of being able to hob-nob with Red Wings players as they come and go.
Security also ends up performing tasks such as picking up players and officials from their hotels to get them to practices/games, greeting fans at the arena entrance, guarding entrances to restricted areas of the building, making sure autograph-seeking fans don’t overwhelm players, escorting team personnel in public and even sweeping up. They even make sure Red Wings upper management get what they want, such as making sure former general manager Ken Holland had honey for his tea while watching practice and game sessions from the arena’s suite.
“(Niklas) Kronwall, I had really gotten to know well, so I was bummed to see him retire,” said Case, who has worked security at Wings camp for over a decade. “But now he’s back with the team (as an adviser to Yzerman) and I may see him even more.”