A strong tip that Jim McCrossin is well organized occurred last season. I was waiting to interview Scottie Upshall and wondered how much longer he would be in the treatment room at the Wachovia Center.
“Fourteen minutes,” McCrossin replied.
I smiled and thought, how precise. When McCrossin guided me into the treatment room, I realized that 14 minutes was the time remaining on the machine that Upshall was hooked up to. Still, I had the sense that here was a trainer who was paying attention to his work.
McCrossin recently passed his 1,000th game as a professional trainer and strength/conditioning coach. He’s in his 10th season as the Flyers’ head trainer. He also works with the AHL’s Phantoms and spent one season with the NHL’s Hartford Whalers.
Referring to the 1,000-game milestone, McCrossin said, “Time scoots by so quickly. Seasons come, seasons go. I never paid it much mind until the end of last year when I was notified by the trainers association that in November I’d be covering my 1,000th pro game. Then I thought `Wow!’
“It’s an honor to be in the league that long. You meet so many great people and establish so many friendships. It was nice to reflect on what it means.”
|Jim McCrossin attends to former Flyers defenseman Eric Desjardins during a game in 2004. (Getty Images) |
McCrossin is one of the valuable behind-the-scenes people that most professional, college and high school teams have. Trainers don’t get headlines, but they are vital to the success of teams. Astute trainers can get athletes back in the lineup sooner than expected. They also can put extra miles on athletes.
Flyers Head Coach John Stevens first met McCrossin when Stevens played for the Phantoms. “He’s the best there is at rehabbing players,” Stevens said. “He had me back in 10 weeks from an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament injury). He had another job at the time, but he was on the (stationary) bike with me every morning.
“He’s hands-on. The health of the guys is at the forefront with him. He loves being around the guys, but he doesn’t let them off the hook. They have to do their work.”
A caring trainer’s work day doesn’t end at the arena. McCrossin calls players at home to see how they are feeling. Simon Gagne, recovering from a concussion, has received calls in the evenings at home from McCrossin.
“The first thing with Simon or Keith Primeau or Eric Lindros (who also sustained concussions playing for the Flyers) is to get them feeling good again,” McCrossin said. “Then we have to get them back where they were conditioning-wise. That’s where our preseason conditioning comes in so handy because we do all those tests. We have a great base-line measurement on them. When Simon feels he’s ready to take his neuro-psyche exam, then we’ll do our neuro-psyche evaluation. Once he passes that, he’s going to be cleared to [play].”
When the Flyers are on the road, McCrossin also calls injured players. “I never want a player to feel that they aren’t part of the team,” he said.
McCrossin, 50, grew up as a Flyers fan in Springfield, Delaware County. He remembers listening to Gene Hart do play-by-play on late-night Flyers games on the West Coast.
“Hockey has always been a passion of mine,” McCrossin said. “To walk into the Flyers locker room (in the Spectrum) for the first time in 1984, it was like a kid walking into a candy factory. It was a dream come true.
“My mom’s folks lived in Weston, Ontario (near Toronto). In my early years, I was a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Once the Flyers were established, I was a Flyers fan.”
McCrossin began his training career as one of Pat Croce’s “black shirts.” They were the trainers who always wore black shirts and pants.
“In 1982,” McCrossin recalled, “Pat was hired by (Flyers coach) Pat Quinn as the Flyers first strength and conditioning coach and physical therapist. I was with Pat at Haverford Community Hospital.”
Two years later, Croce and McCrossin left the hospital and devoted more time to the Flyers. Later, Croce went on to fame and fortune as the owner of a physical rehabilitation chain and as president of the Sixers.
|McCrossin helps to patch up a bloodied R.J. Umberger earlier this season. (Getty Images) |
“Jimmy is intense and committed,” Croce said. “The trust he has with John Stevens is wonderful. If Jimmy says a player can’t play, he doesn’t get that raised eyebrow (from a coach). Jimmy has John’s best interests in mind.”
In the mid-1990s, McCrossin spent one year in Hartford when Paul Holmgren was the general manager and coach. Holmgren is now the Flyers’ GM.
“The Whalers organization treated me phenomenally,” McCrossin said, “but it wasn’t home. My heart always was with the orange and black. Bob Clarke gave me the opportunity to come back.”
McCrossin, a West Chester University graduate, is the father of four: Kevin, 28, is in financing; J.D., 27, is finishing his nursing degree; Danielle, 23, is a biology major at West Chester. McCrossin and his second wife, Robyn, have a son, Luke, 2. He hasn’t finalized his career plans yet.
When you are aware of McCrossin’s daily routine, you know why he says, “I have a very understanding wife and family. And I have a great assistant in Sal Raffa.”
McCrossin usually arrives at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
, in Voorhees, N.J., about 6:30 a.m. He works out, and then prepares for the team practices.
“The players arrive about 8:00-8:15,” McCrossin said. “My day ends long after the players are gone. I have reports I do for the league and for Paul Holmgren and the coaching staff.”
On home game days, the team skates at 10:00 a.m. About 2:30 p.m., McCrossin heads across the bridge to the Wachovia Center. Following night games, by the time McCrossin leaves the arena it is usually after 11:00 p.m.
Generally, today’s NHL players are more fitness-conscious than they were 25 years ago. “They’re exposed to more information,” McCrossin said. “They’re better educated about how to keep themselves in shape. You have more people like myself involved in professional sports. They have nutritionists and sports psychologists.
“Also, I can remember veterans like Rick Tocchet and Dave Poulin grabbing people and saying, `Hey, kid, don’t be like me. Start this now.’
“I remember Tocchet pulling aside Justin Williams, when `Willy’ was just a rookie, and telling him, `Don’t be a dummy. I started when I was 26, 27 getting myself in shape.’ That means a lot. Jim McCrossin saying it is one thing. When a well respected, seasoned veteran says it to a rookie, it makes my job much easier.”
McCrossin is a pleasure for the media to work with because he is accessible. Some teams won’t let their trainers deal with the media because they don’t want opponents to know the condition of their players.
“I never hide anything,” McCrossin said. “I always keep it black and white so there’s no gray areas. The more that (the media) is able to understand an injury, reporters are able to report it better.”
As busy as McCrossin is, he continues to learn.
“I’m pursuing my Ph.D,” he said. “One thing my teachers taught me well is, never stop learning. I’m able to take courses over the Internet. I can correspond with people all over North America and swap ideas.
Exchanging ideas, studying and McCrossin’s commitment to the players’ health is a hat trick that immensely benefits the organization.Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.
Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.
He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.