It’s happened over and over in my years of watching hockey: One of my players goes down injured, my heart races, panic creeps in, and I fire laser beams of righteous indignation at the opponent who caused it, while fighting back that “what if it’s really serious?” lump in my throat.
Meanwhile, the team’s athletic trainer calmly, carefully traverses the ice, sometimes grasping the arm of a player with his latex-gloved hand to get to his patient as quickly as possible. (Bonus: This distracts me from my worries for a few seconds, pondering the pleasures of gripping that player’s strong, steady arms. *swoon*)
When they do get there, kneeling on the ice, arm around their charge, assessing the damage and reassuring the injured player, I am so grateful for their calm presence that I can’t help but love them for taking care of “my boys.”
And what better way to show love than to chuck something black, lacy, and DD at them?
Athletic trainers are, after all, the first responders of hockey. Sometimes it’s a sprained knee, sometimes it’s a bloody mess, sometimes, as we’ve been sadly reminded of recently, it’s a broken back.
And to be able to put emotions aside and just do this very important, analytical job, on slippery ice with thousands of people hanging on your and the players every move? If that isn’t bra-toss worthy, I don’t know what is.
Not to mention the stuff we don’t see – the travel, the extensive and continuous training, the paperwork.
“13 people get an email from me after every game, starting from (Wild GM) Chuck Fletcher through the GMS though development and our coaches,” Jody Green, athletic trainer for the Houston Aeros told me.
He would not, unfortunately, agree to BCC me on that email. Hey, I had to try, right?
I talked to Jody because I’ve gotten to watch him work for a few years now and know what a pro he is, but as someone who watches the game with her heart throbbing loudly on her sleeve, it’s almost miraculous to me how athletic trainers can rise above the drama to do an often quite serious job.
For most of us, we just have “fan relationships” with players. Even in the media, you may get to know personalities better, but you don’t have nearly the intimacy with players that someone who has stitched their wounds and pushed them through rehab and sometimes been the first one there in a real crisis.
Jody gave me an example of bonsd develop between athletic trainers and players over the seasons. When former Aeros (now Wild) forward Colton Gillies collided with an opponent during a road game in Cleveland early in the year two seasons ago, he broke his nose and let forth of gusher of blood.
Jody got him patched up, but Gillies was done for the day, and the two were in the room when Gillies suddenly says, “Gosh, you have really blue eyes!”
“That moment kind of took me out of worrying about things,” Jody said. “He didn’t have a concussion, but I still joke with him, ‘Maybe we should have screened you a little more.’”
Bonds with other guys, especially old school types, can be a little different.
“Certain guys, like a Warren Peters or Jed Ortmeyer, they’re not going down on the ice. If they’re down on the ice, there’s something wrong,” said Jody. “Even when Ortmeyer was injured in Cleveland (earlier this season), he was injured in the far zone, got up, limped and made it all the way off the bench and into the tunnel. He went down after that, but he’s like, ‘If I’m ever down (on the ice), you’ve gotta come get me.’”
Regardless of the specific understanding between a player and his athletic trainer, there is, ideally, a level of trust between them after having been through a few battles together.
“You definitely spend a lot more time with them than you do your family or friends. But that’s why you invest so much in it, because you get to know them and they get to know you,” Jody told me. “It’s your extended family.”
But here’s the thing, when Jackass McPrickerson runs one of your extended family members head first into the glass, how do you stay so calm?
Basically, Jody told me, it’s just his job, and instincts and training kick in.
It’s all about the player needing to hear from a trusted source, “I’m here. Things are going to be okay,” Jody said. “Because always, your initial reaction, you have adrenaline, especially [severe injuries]. The guy, in his head, he’s got a million things going. He’s got pain, he might be thinking ‘What’s going to happen next? Am I out?’”
For the athletic trainer though, it’s triage – part keeping the player calm and explaining what’s going on, part assessing the situation from a medical perspective and deciding the best course of action.
“You always wonder, ‘what if this happens?’ but your instinct kicks in. Your mindset, your levelheadedness kicks in, and you just handle the situation. You talk them through it and you just simplify things. That’s what everyone wants. It’s almost like a motherly instinct.”
As much as the presence of a trusted athletic trainer’s voice can reassure an injured player, I believe we fans find reassurance there, too. Our appreciation for that one, always-cool head behind the bench looking over the well-being of our flock may not get expressed very often, but there’s no doubt it’s there.