Playing the Injury Game
Russell Gunner, C.A.T. (C)

During the 2005 world juniors in Grand Forks, North Dakota there were a few times when a player was injured, but we never really found out what the injury was until after the championship game. Welcome to the world of don't let the other team know what your injury is. This will be telling the other team too much information, and they may go after the injury when the player returns. My favorite time is during play-offs when the player has the mysterious "upper body injury". Why do teams do this, let's find out.

Marc Crawford, coach of the Vancouver Canucks is the master of denying injuries to the media. Last season in the play-offs, Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier had injured what easily appeared to be his ankle during the first period. He was seen clutching his ankle in pain, being helped off the ice holding his ankle and seen after the game on crutches. Crawford at the post-game news conference had the shocking surprise that Cloutier suffered a "lower-body injury". Thanks for the news update. Hence the beginning of the mysterious lower body and upper body injuries that players experience in the play-offs. During the season it would have been disclosed that Cloutier suffered a minor ankle sprain and will miss a few games. In the play-offs however, don't tell the public, let us guess.

In the play-offs, teams will try to get any advantage they can to help them advance further. I don't think hiding your injuries will do that. The theory behind hiding the injury is to always keep the other team guessing. Will he back next game? If he hurt his knee, should we take a shot at it? To me, these excuses are well beyond the game of sportsmanship which we try to bring up our kids believing. So what if he hurt his knee, in no way should another player go after it. Let's worry about winning the game and less about the others teams injuries. Look at Joe Thornton last year, with his upper body injury. He was held virtually pointless off the score sheet in the first round of the play-offs. Was this due to the injury or was the other team just playing their regular clutch-and-grab game? After the Bruins lost, we found out that he had a fractured rib, which is quite painful if you have ever had one. This would have been a large detriment to his game, but if the other team knew this, would it have changed the outcome? Probably not.

As an Athletic Therapist, we are the go-to people when there is an injury. The coach will look to us first as to whether this player can return tonight or are they gone for the play-offs. When I was luckily enough to spend time with the Maple Leafs several years ago, it was quite interesting to see both sides of the injury game. During the play-offs I was essentially sworn to secrecy about certain player's injuries. The media would find out via Pat Burns, rather than the therapist, that the player would probably only be out a few games, but as part of the training staff we all knew he was done for the play-offs.

The Athletic Therapists in the NHL are a very close knit group. They have yearly conferences where several beverages are consumed, and current issues are discussed. As you can guess this takes place after the season is over. During the play-offs you see the other therapist with just a nod and a smile and continue playing the injury game. We are actually taught in school not to discuss player's injuries with the other team's therapist or how to hide yourself from the other team when assessing an injury on the bench. This is often why you see the player walk directly to the dressing room after an injury. Even if it is a minor wrist sprain, don't you let someone see you touching it. That's called playing the injury game.

So after all this, should we hide or disclose everything. When it comes to ethics, it is actually the players right if we are able to reveal his status. In 2004, Canadian law made a new privacy act where without permission; you are no longer allowed to discuss another patient's injury status with anybody, even their spouse. So maybe the players in the NHL are using that as their excuse.

Whatever the reason for not disclosing the injury, it is truly up to that particular player and team. The coach will however usually have the last say on what the media finds out. So as the play-offs approach for your own leagues get ready for the ever popular upper body injury and hope they get better real soon, because we wouldn't want anything to leak to the moms on the other team. Goodness knows how they would blow it out of proportion.

Just because it is cold doesn't mean that your body needs less fluid. You might feel that since you're not sweating as much, you should be fine. Wrong! You obviously don't need to replenish fluids to the same extent as on a hot day in the summer. But you do still sweat in the winter. Try going for a 10-km cross-country workout and tell me you don't have to wring out your hat afterward. Depending upon the length of the workout, you may not need to carry some fluids with you: carrying around your sports drink on a very cold day could turn your hydrating drink into a frozen slushie. But have them ready right away when you're done.

Enjoy those outdoor winter workouts, but make sure you are prepared for the worst. Don't get stranded out on a -30 C day when you should have had one more layer and your body is feeling it. Believe me, I have done it and it takes all the fun out of your workout. As much fun as a -30 C workout can be.