Day in the Life of an N.H.L. Therapist
Russell Gunner, C.A.T. (C)
Picture this; the home team is up by one goal late in the third in front of sell-out crowd. They are on the edge of their seats waiting for the final buzzer when suddenly a player goes hard into the end boards. He's not moving, the whistle goes to stop the play and the crowd goes silent. The team therapist runs into the corner to help the player. Over 18,000 people are watching the therapist to see if he can help get the player up and back into action as quickly as possible. Thankfully the player gets up on his own emission and the crowd lets out a big sigh of relief. The therapist with the help of the linesman slowly saunters back to the bench to take up his old and steady position behind the bench. This is just a typical day in the life of an N.H.L. therapist.
Back in the 1995-96 season I had the pleasure to work with the Toronto Maple Leafs as student athletic therapist with both Chris Broadhurst (now with the Phoenix Coyotes) and Brent Smith. It was a boyhood dream to be able to walk into the old Maple Leaf Gardens where I used to watch my heroes come out that gold dressing room door every Saturday night. When I first walked through those doors I started to realize just how tough of job this really would be. The job is very similar to a coaching position in that it is often only year to year contracts. Many therapists often quit due to the stresses it puts on their family and others for the amount of expectations from coaches and head office. Others excel at the position and have become some of the leaders in their respective health care fields. The days are long and season is even longer.
The typical game day for the athletic therapist usually starts around 7 am when players start arriving before the morning skate. Players who are playing that day will need treatment before the 10 am skate and often before a team meeting. The others players on the injured reserve will wait until the rest of the players hit the ice before they begin their rehabilitation regime. Each player will spend time either on the bed getting manual therapy or with some modalities (laser, etc.), while others will be on the bike and in the gym getting back into or staying in shape. After the practice, the players will start making their way back into the training room for a post workout massage or treatment for some nagging injuries. This goes on for a few hours. Finally some down time when the training staff can get things organized and get ready for the afternoon shift. Often, this is also time for the much dreaded paper work that goes with the job.
The players start returning for the night game around 4pm and get some treatment or a pre-game massage. At 6 pm, there was usually a pre-game meeting where the therapists would often catch a quick snooze before the next rush. Before the 7 pm start a few adjustments and tape jobs will be applied and the players are ready to go. Once the game starts, usually one therapist will stay behind and eat dinner while the other will be behind the bench in case of emergencies. In the second period the therapists will switch, and in the third usually just the head therapist stays behind the bench, while the other watches. That reminds of one game when both I and Brent Smith were watching the game from in between the benches at the Gardens. A fight broke out in the corner and we couldn't see it with all the players and fans standing up. Therefore the only way we could see it, was to rush back to the dressing room and watch it on TV just like everybody else. So it just goes to show you, even the staff can't always get front row seats like is expected.
Following a game, depending if anybody got injured, it could be quite easy. Usually players would just shower, grab some ice and be on their way. However, when the worst case scenario occurs (a player gets injured), often you would need to arrange possible x-rays, treatment or hopefully send them home with a just a few instructions. Therefore, the day is finally over. A good game day is when the training staff can get out there around midnight. Now remember this is all for a home game, it is a lot worse on the road.
Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of perks associated with this job (golfing, connections, etc.) and the salary is Ok (Unfortunately not like the players' salaries). Getting a job as a therapist in the NHL is often just like a player. The therapist will often have to put in several years in the minors, hoping to get the call-up. Once it comes, you will do anything you can to keep it. As a kid, we all wanted to play in the NHL, but unfortunately we may not always play, but can still get there in some other context. Good luck to those who make it!!