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MONTREAL -- Dr. David Mulder stitches his 60-year hockey career -- literally -- between Bobby Orr, a 15-year-old with the Oshawa Generals in 1963-64, and a New Jersey Devils visitor to the Bell Centre in Montreal last March. 

After six decades in the Montreal Canadiens organization, Mulder retired in September as their head physician and chief surgeon, today holding emeritus status as a consultant with their medical staff.

On Nov. 9, the Canadiens will pay tribute to Mulder and their 1993 Stanley Cup championship team with a gala Bell Centre fundraising evening to benefit the Montreal General Hospital Foundation; the Serge Savard Fund, in aid of University of Sherbrooke student-athletes; and the Canadiens’ Centennial Emergency Fund, which provides financial assistance to former Canadiens players facing short-term health and well-being challenges.

A silent auction of 127 items will raise additional funds.

Mulder Savard 2019

Dr. David Mulder with Serge Savard in 2019, displaying a March 11, 1970 photo of Savard sliding into the post behind goalie Rogie Vachon, breaking his left leg. Mulder cared for Savard as a player from the mid-1960s, when the latter played with the Montreal Junior Canadiens, then served for him between 1983-95, when Savard was general manager of the NHL Canadiens.

“I’ve been tussling over what to stay and how to distil all the stories into something meaningful,” Mulder said in a conversation Saturday. “Right from the juniors through the present, I have an amazing number of stories. What I want to acknowledge is how the funds being raised will be monumental in helping so many Quebecers.”

During 60 years with the Canadiens family, Mulder has worked for six ownership groups, 10 general managers and 21 different coaches, the team winning 12 of its 24 Stanley Cup championships with the doctor providing care for their players at the junior, minor-pro and NHL levels.

He has made profound friendships, treated team icons Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau to the final days of their lives, saw Saku Koivu to a comeback from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and quite literally saved the lives of others.

“I have so many memories, but the one that still truly affects me is the night that Saku returned from his cancer to play,” Mulder said of the captain’s Bell Centre return on April 9, 2002.

Mulder 2019

Dr. David Mulder was celebrated at a fundraiser for the Montreal General Hospital in 2019.

“I was sitting in the little doctors’ office before the game and Saku and I had a very emotional reunion. He went out on the ice for that very long standing ovation. It was probably the most moving experience I’ve ever had.”

Mulder’s care for Brian Savage in 1999 and Max Pacioretty in 2011, both having sustained fractured vertebrae, and Trent McCleary, whose fractured larynx and collapsed lung from a puck to the throat in 2000 required an emergency tracheotomy with the player still in skates, don’t even warm up his scalpel. 

McCleary’s critical injury would rewrite NHL policy. Mulder’s regular seat was in the stands, behind a net, but then-Canadiens president Pierre Boivin quickly mandated that he move to the first row behind the team bench, to be just feet from the ice and the clinic. The NHL followed suit throughout the League.

Hundreds of players, and their families, have benefitted from Mulder’s care and treatment through the decades, and that’s not including the thousands from all walks of life he has seen in a hospital setting.

The native of Eston, Saskatchewan came to Montreal in 1963, planning to finish his medical training after graduating from the University of Saskatchewan in 1962 before returning home to begin his surgical career.

Mulder Beliveaus 2006

Dr. David Mulder (far right) with Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau after the latter had accepted a 2006 McGill University Honorary Doctorate of Laws. From left: Beliveau’s daughter, Helene, granddaughter Magalie, wife Elise, Beliveau and granddaughter Mylene.

Sixty years later, at age 85, he remains a giant in medicine in his adopted home of Montreal and far beyond, a pioneer in care, education and research at the Montreal General Hospital. In 2015, the hospital named its world-renowned trauma center for Mulder, its former surgeon-in-chief, chairman of the department of surgery and director of the division of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at Montreal’s McGill University.

Mulder arrived here in the early 1960s after a fortuitous graduation-banquet meeting. The invitation was extended to him by guest speaker H. Rocke Robertson, newly appointed chair of surgery at the Montreal General, and he touched down in July 1963, the city becoming his home.

“Dr. Robertson accepted me on a handshake,” Mulder said. “I’ve called it serendipity. Maybe it was luck.”

His trail-blazing impact on health care in Montreal and far beyond, especially in trauma, has been tremendous, a chief surgeon at the Montreal General from 1977-98 and a key member of the McGill Sports Medicine Centre since 1994. 

While Mulder no longer operates, he still runs a clinic and teaches medical residents and students “in a sort of limited role.”

Mulder 1991-92 medical staff

Dr. David Mulder with Canadiens captain Guy Carbonneau, alternate captain Brian Skrudland and the team’s medical staff during the 1991-92 season. From left: Mulder, Dr. John Little, Dr. Douglas Kinnear and Dr. Eric Lenczner.

He joined the Canadiens family in September 1963 at the request of Dr. Douglas Kinnear, the team’s chief physician, as one of three McGill surgical residents recruited to help out with the Junior Canadiens, who were packing the Montreal Forum on Sunday afternoons.

With needles and plenty of thread in the helmetless era of limited equipment, the trio were paid $10 per game, “which meant we could have the odd extra meal,” Mulder remembered.

It was in his earliest days that superstar-to-be Bobby Orr arrived in the Forum clinic, bleeding badly from a cut to his forehead.

“Scalp lacerations can bleed badly,” Mulder said. “Dr. Kinnear was with me that day, supervising to see whether I could actually sew Bobby up. I got it done to his satisfaction. 

“We were trying to rush him back onto the ice when Bobby said, ‘Just a minute, could I have a wet towel?’ I replied, ‘I’ve already cleaned you up, you’re ready to go.’ In those days, the Forum clinic floor was covered with battleship linoleum. Bobby got down on his hands and knees with a wet towel and cleaned up the drops of blood from the door into the clinic. An amazing gesture. He was an incredible athlete and an incredible person.”

The last player Mulder sutured was a New Jersey visitor last March 11, the Devils’ final visit to Montreal that season. He doesn’t recall the name of the player who was nicked in the penalty-free game but remembers that the minor cut needed just a few stitches from himself and team physician Kosar Khwaja, about what he’d sewn into Orr 60 years earlier.

Mulder family

Dr. David Mulder at home with his wife, Norma, and their children (from left) John, Elizabeth and Scott.

It was while treating the Junior Canadiens and their Forum visitors that Mulder first met Jean Beliveau, by 1963 two seasons into his decade-long role as Canadiens captain.

Kinnear wasn’t available and GM Sam Pollock asked Mulder to give Beliveau a look for a minor infected cut.

“It wasn’t anything serious, it might have been a laceration that was a little red,” Mulder said. “It was likely a Sunday in the Forum clinic and I probably gave Jean some antibiotic.

“But he was so thankful. My gosh, here’s Jean Beliveau thanking me. That was our first real contact. It was very warm, very close. It was very genuine. You have to imagine, here’s a boy from Saskatchewan, still in awe of everything, in the same room as Jean Beliveau. It was nothing less than hero worship.”

Mulder would also work with the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate in the late 1960s, having spent two years studying cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Ohio, then joined Kinnear with the NHL club as the latter’s surgical assistant in 1970-71 before becoming team physician in 1998.

“I never, ever considered this a job,” Mulder said of his work with the “big team,” as he calls the Canadiens. “It’s more an avocation.”

Mulder 2009 portrait 2021 book

Dr. David Mulder in a 2009 team portrait and his 2021 book, detailing the Montreal General Hospital’s long relationship with the Canadiens.

He served as president of the NHL Teams Physicians Society from 2003-06 and has received the Order of Canada as well as the Award of Merit from the Montreal General Hospital. Mulder also received the USA National Safety Council Award in October 2012 for his role in developing a province-wide trauma-care system in Quebec.

Since Mulder’s stories could fill a book, he wrote one in 2021, his own notes and those of Kinnear, his late mentor, pooled to coincide with the bicentennial of the Montreal General Hospital.

“Hockey Doc: Stories on Fifty Years of Medical Care to the Montreal Canadiens” chronicles the relationship between the Montreal General and the Canadiens organization, through clinical and personal events that have marked Mulder’s life.

His relationship with the Molson family, longtime Canadiens owners, goes back generations. 

He started in the organization with Senator Hartland de Montarville Molson and his brother, Thomas, who were instrumental in the building of the Montreal General; then cousins David, Peter and Bill; the brewery’s Eric and Steve; and now seventh-generation Molson brothers Geoff, Andrew and Justin.

“I’ve been associated with Geoff’s kids, too, suturing them up with the odd kitchen-table surgery,” Mulder said. “Children’s bumps and bruises that I’ve either sewn up or glued. I can say I’ve been associated with the eighth generation, as well.”

Mulder 2015 ice

Dr. David Mulder with his family on Bell Centre ice in October 2015, the team honoring him for a half-century of work with the franchise.

He cherishes memories of the people he’s met in and beyond hockey. Mulder recalls, as a 1960s surgical resident, acting as a go-between for Toe Blake and a Montreal General doctor when the coach’s wife had taken ill.

“I was afraid of Toe,” he said of the gruff legend who guided the Canadiens to eight championships between 1956-68. “He was tough but inside he had the heart of a big teddy bear. To repay the surgical residents for our help, Toe would invite us down to his tavern and we could drink as much beer as we wanted and have pig’s knuckles.”

In October 2015, the Canadiens saluted Mulder with a pregame tribute and ceremonial opening face-off that included his wife, Norma, their three children – Scott, Elizabeth and John – as well as two of his children’s spouses and seven of his nine grandchildren. 

This week, for the gala fundraiser, about 1,000 guests are expected to gather at Bell Centre to express their appreciation to a modest legend. Mulder’s family will be among them, as will his brother and sister, respectively a family doctor and PhD nurse coming in from Red Deer, Alberta, and more than 20 members of the Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup championship team.

Mulder group 2015

Dr. David Mulder in October 2015 during a Bell Centre evening saluting his half-century relationship with the Canadiens organization. From left: alumni director Rejean Houle, Yvan Cournoyer, Mulder, Dr. Douglas Kinnear and Dickie Moore.

“I remember one Saturday morning early in my career covering for Dr. Kinnear, who was attending a meeting in the U.S.,” Mulder said. “A Canadiens player was injured and I was supposed to see him at 11 o’clock but I didn’t get down to the Forum until 11:15.

“Toe (Blake) was pacing outside and I apologized for being late, explaining to him that I’d been up all night operating, then had to do rounds and attend a meeting. Toe just looked at me and said, ‘Doc, you can’t catch every streetcar.’ That was a lesson in time management.

“People often ask how I can relate the two careers -- being an academic at McGill and the Montreal General while looking after hockey players. I tell them stories about all of my mentors in hockey and how they’ve influenced my life in medicine. While I was training at the hospital in surgery, I was certainly getting life lessons at the Montreal Forum and Bell Centre. It’s been a real privilege.”

Top photo: Dr. David Mulder in a 2023 Montreal General Hospital portrait, taken for the Nov. 9, 2023 fundraising gala to be held in his honor.