Now in his 13th season with the Maple Leafs, head athletic therapist Chris Broadhurst says the race is as tight as ever.
While the research and technology available to those who work in the injury treatment and prevention part of the game is always improving, the players' growing size, strength and competitiveness is keeping pace.
Broadhurst says it is fortunate that modern athletes are also more aware of training techniques, and are generally very active in the injury re-hab process as well.
"There's no question that they're better athletes now because of their training knowledge, but having said that, their long seasons and our goals for keeping them strong and healthy are always challenged, and when you factor injuries into the equation, that's a real test."
| Broadhurst deals with every injury you can imagine with these Maple Leafs. |
Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI
As random as the pattern of hockey injuries seems to be, Broadhurst maintains that they tend to follow a cycle.
This season, Maple Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour and forward Mikael Renberg have each suffered dangerous infections by cutting their hands on a part of their own equipment.
Broadhurst says the media and fan interest has put infections under the spotlight.
"Those aren't very common injuries, but now infections seem to be on the rise, and we're more sensitive to them as trainers. But they come and go every few years. A couple of years ago it was concussions, and groin strains, knee and shoulder injuries. So they all seem to come around."
One of the most challenging injuries suffered by a Maple Leaf under Broadhursts' supervision was the concussion that could have ended the career of Alyn McCauley, late in the 1998-99 season.
It should be no surprise that Broadhurst was instrumental in McCauley's comeback, and that McCauley himself was a very dedicated patient.
"It was great to see him train as hard as he did and then develop such a good rapport with the doctors and trainers and everyone involved. To see him come all the way back and have the playoff year that he did last year (15 pts. in 20 games) that was just a really proud moment and you really pull for guys like that."
For the simple reason that Broadhurst works so closely to the Maple Leafs, countless people would trade places with him. But there is very little glamour involved in his job.
The rewards are subtle, like when an injured player is finally back on his feet after a stint away from the game, or if a new technique in the training room proves to be successful. Mostly, and this is typical of people in the sports-medicine community, it is the relationships with athletes and colleagues who count on Broadhurst, and the trust they place in him that make the grueling road trips and year long schedule worth every minute.
"The real value is the ability to come to work and be in a team environment, something I'm sure I couldn't get in a lot of other jobs. That's what I enjoy, what I take away from it, that family atmosphere and the fact that we look out for each other take care of each other around the dressing room."
That took on a whole new meaning last summer, when the Broadhurst family suffered through the death of their infant daughter. Chris counts the number of current and former players, coaches, media members, NHL dignitaries and folks from all walks of life who came to his family's side in the thousands.
"One thing our friends that were around us the most noticed was how tremendous the hockey community really is. I'm still working through it with my family, and September and October were mostly for being with them, but as I got back in to being with the team, it does help to have gotten back on a busy schedule and to enjoy the sport that I've grown up with and love."