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IN GUD HANDS

By George Johnson - CalgaryFlames.com

Arborg, Man., two hours northwest of Winnipeg (pop. 1,200) is arguably best known for housing the World's Largest Curling Rock.

The massive shot-stone/roadside attraction measures 4.2 metres wide and 2.1 metres high, rising more than 3.5 metres from its base and fashioned not out of the customary granite, but steel, foam, and fibreglass.

Despite such an unavoidable daily reminder only a double-raise takeout away, though, local boy Mike Gudmundson chose to ignore the roaring-game route.

Instead, he audibled into football before completing a seamless line change into hockey.

Since arriving in Calgary 15 years ago to begin a career as a professional dealing in aches, pains, breaks and tears, Gudmundson holds the distinction of wearing both the White Horse and Flaming C, the two big teams in this town.

A unique doubleheader.

 

 

"They both have been great experiences,'' says Gudmundson, a member of the Canadian Athletic Therapy Association as well as being a certified first responder.

"I've absolutely loved both.

"I mean, you're here long hours and don't know when your next day off will be. So if you didn't love it, it'd be awful tough to get up every day.

"Hanging out with the people you do makes it fun, too."

By its nature, Gudmundson's line of work is filled with mighty tough hombres, people owning off-the-charts pain thresholds.

"The toughest? Well, someone that comes to mind right away," he reckons, "is probably Juwan Simpson with the Stamps.

"I still talk to him sometimes. When Alabama wins a national championship or a big game, he'll still text: Roll Damn Tide! He has such an out-sized personality but just a really good guy.

"In terms of toughness, a lot of O-lineman are the same way. Nothing phases them. They'll limp out there no matter what.

"Same thing in hockey, guys playing through all sorts of issues.

"Football, though, is a different animal when it comes to injuries. In football, it's never just one thing. What you're asking them is not: 'What hurts?' It's: 'What hurts the most?' There are so many different types you deal with there."

Gudmundson began his ascent into the therapy business at the University of Manitoba while working towards an Education degree, tending to the Canada West grid-iron Bisons, coached then, as now, by Manitoba legend Brian Dobie.

When a position popped up at the next level, the pro game, out at McMahon Stadium, venerable Stampeders' head athletic therapist Pat Clayton searching for an able assistant, Dobie placed a phone call.

Gudmundson spent seven years learning the ropes out on Crowchild Trail North before Clayton retired after nearly three decades in the post in order to serve his own practice more fully and spend time with his family.

He then took over the top job.

The immersion into the job, the long hours, were amply rewarded by being part of Grey Cup titles in both 2008 and 2014.

"Winning, in any sport, makes it all worthwhile," he said. "At the end of the season and into the playoffs, there are no options for these guys, so you've gotta do whatever you can to help them play.

"The second half of that Grey Cup in Van (2014), I barely watched any of it. Guys were limping off and we're trying to patch them together.

"It was wild."

The shift to hockey arrived in 2015, with an offer from assistant Flames' head athletic therapist Kent Kobelka.

Gudmundson didn't dally in deciding.

"It's the NHL. I'm a Canadian kid. Yeah, I played, but just up to the midget level. Never played junior. Went to school instead.

"They're different animals, football and hockey. Game days in football are such a big deal. You play once a week. In hockey, game days are a big deal, too, definitely. But there are 82 of 'em. So you get in a rhythm of doing things.

"In hockey, you never get bored because you're all over the map. Literally. I mean, on this trip we go to Regina for the outdoor, then we're going to Carolina, then Nashville, then …

"Everything brings its own challenges."

Count the NHL schedule, twisting and turning as it does, among those challenges, particularly when it comes to family. Mike and wife Nadine have two children, Cole and Caira.

"For sure, being away for the family so much is one of the hardest parts now," Gudmundson concedes. "Anybody involved will tell you that. In the CFL, on a road trip you're gone for three days.

"That was one of the biggest things my wife and I talked about in discussing the switch.

"But there's also so many pros to doing this. All the guys are super-supportive. Kent and Wags (rehab consultant Kevin Wagner) couldn't be more supportive. When Cole was born, there was no question: Wags was going on the trip so I could be here for the birth.

"Coaches, managers, everybody is so accommodating about anything having to do with family. That goes a long way.

"Same with the Stamps. The way Huff runs things over there? There's a reason they've have been so good for so long."

Being entrusted with the well-being of highly-paid, high-profile, heavily-counted-upon athletes can't overwhelm the men entrusted with their well-being.

"You trust yourself. Injuries are injuries and people are people. Any injury is something you just have to deal with. It's your job. If I'm not comfortable with something I have Kent and Wags and great doctors here to call on. We all work as a team.

"It's a really tight-knit group inside the dressing room. And in our little trainers' room, some pretty good conversations going on at almost any time of day."

The training gig is, in this era of discovery, constantly changing, continually evolving.

"We have an NHL trainers' meeting once a year and all the new things get pitched to us there," says Gudmundson. "You've got to weed through what's just a fad and what might actually be beneficial.

"Everybody's different, of course, and there are outside influences. And there's the Google machine. With Google, anybody can be an expert on anything, right?

"But the guys have faith in us as a medical team.

"We're always trying to better ourselves, as individuals and as a group."

With Grey Cup celebrations off the bucket list, Gudmundson has set his sights on a different iconic hunk of hardware.

"Of course I think about it," he admits. "I think about a parade in Calgary, the chance to lift the Cup and having a day with it and what I'd do. All that.

"It's every Canadian kid's dream, right? To be part of a Stanley Cup champion. Whatever your role in the team.

"So sure.

"That's what we all want; what we're all working towards.

"Absolutely."

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