They are the Vancouver Canucks training staff: Strength and Conditioning Coach Roger Takahashi, Equipment Manager Pat O’Neill, Assistant Equipment Manager Jamie Hendricks, Equipment Assistant Brian Hamilton, Medical Trainer Mike Burnstein and Assistant Medical Trainers Jon Sanderson and Marty Dudgeon. Collectively, the magnificent seven, work together to see that the equipment, medical and conditioning needs of the players are met.
The 2007-08 campaign marked a milestone for one of these individuals when O’Neill, recognized as one of the most skilled and respected trainers in the League, appeared in his 2000th professional game.
O’Neill directs the equipment trainers, comprised of three BC-born boys: himself, Hendricks and Hamilton. Collectively, the three trainers oversee equipment inventory, repair and maintain equipment and ensure the Canucks and visiting rooms are in good working order.
O’Neill, starting with the organization in 1988, has been a steady fixture for the club through thick and thin. During his career he has seen seven coaches, six captains and countless players enter and exit the room.
“I have about a million memories, a million stories,” recollects O’Neill on the time he has spent with the Canucks. “But I think my favourite experience was the ’94 run. It was a really magical time.”
His impact on the organization has not gone unnoticed. In 1996, he was recognized by the club with the Larry Ashley award, named after the Canucks legendary trainer, whom O’Neill closely worked with. “It meant a lot to receive this award,” says O’Neill. “Anything to be associated with Larry is a great honour.” During his illustrious career, he has also been asked to serve for Team Canada in three international tournaments.
The equipment trainers are always there to assist players for game preparation, even if it’s not necessarily in the job description. QUICK THINKING
Such was the case in 2005.06, when a unique opportunity presented itself to Hendricks with the club asking him to play goal during selected team practices. With goaltender Dan Cloutier on the Injured Reserve and the constraints of the salary cap (sending goalkeepers to the AHL affiliate and back) there was a void during many practices in one of the nets.
Hendricks ended up seeing ice time in over 25 practices throughout the season. There was no rest for the trainer following practice. He would come off the ice, take off the pads and then it was straight to his duties as an equipment trainer, tending to the needs of, his once, teammates.
It was this opportunity that provided Hendricks with some of his most memorable moments with the Canucks.
“The opportunity to participate in the Skills competition in front on my family, friends and about 18,000 other people was an unbelievable feeling,” recalls Hendricks. “I also got the chance to practice at Madison Square Gardens. It was overwhelming looking around from the ice and thinking about the historical moments that had happened in that building.” SEEING RED
Rounding out the equipment trainers is Brian “Red” Hamilton, who previously served 13 seasons as the Assistant Equipment Manager for the BC Lions. Unique to his role is airport transportation of equipment for the Canucks and visiting teams, equating some late nights. And because late arrivals happen so frequently, Hamilton has a place to sleep at the arena.
Aptly described in-house as the “Phoenix” of the north, Vancouver has evolved into a destination city for other NHL teams when they make the Western Canadian swing, sometimes meaning that Vancouver will play host to three NHL teams practicing at once.
“I’m very lucky at GM Place. The staff that I work with – Patty and Jamie – are awesome. And then we have two game night staff, ‘Shooter’ (Ron Shute) and ‘Brummer’ (Brian Brumwell),” explains Hamilton of the busy times. “And I get a lot of help from the medical staff, conversions, the housecleaning staff, the engineers here and landmark aviation.”
And while the hours can be extensive, Hamilton’s optimism and overall cheerful demeanor never wavers.
“I look forward to coming to the rink, not because it’s ‘the Canucks,’ but because I’m hanging out with the trainers and people from the other departments in the organization,” says Hamilton. “I come to work and I get to work with my friends.”
These friends extend into the medical department, consisting of Burnstein, Sanderson and Dudgeon. The three certified athletic therapists coordinate the therapy and rehab for players, working under public pressure to have key players returned quickly upon suffering injuries. DREAM JOB
Burnstein began his career with the Hamilton Canucks, Vancouver’s AHL affiliate at the time. “I grew up always wanting to be a trainer in the NHL,” says Burnstein. “It was my dream as a kid and during my last year of school I had the opportunity to do an internship with Hamilton.” It was there that he honed his skills and drew attention from the big club.
Starting with the Canucks at the age of 24, Burnstein reached an accomplishment of his own in the 06-07 season, appearing in 1000 games.
In his position, Burnstein is responsible for overseeing the medical department and is in constant communication with coaches and team personnel, updating them with the medical status of each player.
He, along with Sanderson, travels with the team and tends to the players. “The greatest challenge we have on the road is the size of the medical rooms, which are different at every arena,” explains Burnstein. “We travel with three large medical trunks so equipment is never an issue.”
At home or on the road, the health of players is of utmost concern for the team. “There’s a lot of pressure in this position,” says Burnstein of rehabilitating players, “but it’s put on by ourselves.”
“The coaches and management are very understanding,” adds Dudgeon. “They want the players back as soon as possible but not at the risk of greater injury. They have the best interest of the players in mind. They have hired us to ensure that a player is healed before taking to the ice in a game, where our players are so greatly exposed.” MAKING PROGRESS
Dudgeon, who previously worked for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club, remains at home when the team travels. He is responsible for working with players on the Injured Reserve. Dudgeon, a graduate of Brock University with an Honours Diploma from Sheridan College in Sports Injury Management, works with the athletes from initial injury until they return to the lineup.
“For a certified athletic therapist, this is the best position you could be in,” said Dudgeon. “It’s very rewarding to see the progression of the players. In a clinic you would only see an isolated period of the recovery process, but in this position we get the opportunity to see the individual when they are first hurt, work with them throughout the injury, and, once recovered, return to the ice.”
The trainers’ days are not limited to working with injured players; they provide treatment on an almost daily basis to help with injury prevention.
“When we are all at home, we don’t have specific trainers assigned to specific players,” says Sanderson. “Typically guys go to the trainer that is free at the moment or the one that they have developed a relationship with. The three of us are in constant communication and are aware of the treatment each individual needs.”
Sanderson began his career with the BC Lions. In 2006, he also served as a member of the medical staff for Canada’s Men’s Olympic hockey team in Torino, Italy. “It was a great honour to be picked for this position,” said the lone massage therapist of the group. “I had a great experience and [like with the Canucks] enjoyed working with such elite athletes.” WORKING UNDER GOOD CONDITION-ING
Takahashi works closely with the medical training staff to ensure players return to the ice in a safe and timely manner and advises team and individual nutrition.
Takahashi works with approximately 70 players from the NHL club and a number of Canucks prospects scattered throughout the world. “The biggest challenge in overseeing our players is trying to coordinate the best workout for each individual player based on time constraints, travel and space,” says Takahashi. “But I’m very fortunate that the players on this team understand the importance of conditioning so it’s never a struggle to keep them motivated.”
For the 2007.08 season, the Kamloops native implemented in-season yoga sessions. “Yoga is very good for coordination and core stability,” says Takahashi. “A number of NHL teams have turned to Yoga for training in the off season, but, to my knowledge, we are the only team currently doing it during the season.”
And while Takahashi works with the team on almost a daily basis during the season, his busiest months are reserved for the summer. “Every year I travel to the NHL Draft Combine,” Takahashi explains. “I study all of the players’ physical testing scores and provide analysis for our scouts, aiding them in assessing players for their draft list.”
From the combine, Takahashi spends most of his summer checking up on the players and hosting a week long conditioning camp for drafted and AHL players. Last summer, during the prospect conditioning camp, Takahashi mixed gym workouts with a number of other activities, including the Grouse Grind and martial arts, to develop innovative programs for overall and hockey specific strength and conditioning. This summer conditioning can, ultimately, give a player the “edge” come puck drop in October.
During the season, there are no harder workers in the organization than the training staff. They are often the first and last in the building and spend essentially every day at the arena, whether at home or on the road. The hours are long but they accept and realize it’s a reality of the job to have a team be successful at the most elite level. The sacrifice has led to missing some milestones in their personal lives but it has been made easier to cope with, as they all point out, by extremely supportive families.
“We each realize that there are only 29 other jobs like ours in North America,” said Hendricks. “There are a lot of people that would like to be in our shoes and this unique position is something that we have never taken for granted.”