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Perfect storm of events leads Green to 1,000th NHL game

Wild's assistant athletic trainer and massage therapist will reach milestone Wednesday night in Arizona

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

Travis Green's path to the NHL is not one most would consider "normal." 

But when the Wild and Arizona Coyotes drop the puck Wednesday night at Gila River Arena, the team's assistant athletic trainer and massage therapist will celebrate 1,000 games working in a League he could have never imagined he'd once reach.

Green's story is possible because of a series of decisions that happened to put him in position to accept what was thought to be just a part-time contract job ... a part-time job that would turn into a full-time calling.

A native of Red Wing, Green grew up on a pond in Alexandria but never played competitive hockey. He went to Bethel College with his sights on being a physical education teacher, but ended up learning about the athletic training program, which was in its first year of existence when he was a freshman. 

It was the perfect intersection of passions for Green, who played football, wrestled and was in track and field as a kid. The son of an operating room nurse who used to love to listen to stories of what would come through the doors at the hospital, Green was able to work in medicine and still be around sports. 

"I never knew about athletic training growing up," Green said. "It was a relatively newer field, but I said, 'that's what I want to do.' I mean, I get to be in medicine and be around sports? This is my dream job, and I've never looked back since."

In his limited free time, the father of three teenaged children loves dark beer, mountain biking and riding his motorcyle - the last one especially ironic considering his mom Christina's day job. 

"Growing up, we never had motorized anything because she saw the accidents," Green said. "She'd say, 'there's no way in hell you're ever getting this stuff unless you buy it yourself, because I don't want to see you in the emergency room or on the operating table.'" 

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Green graduated from Bethel College in St. Paul and commenced his career as an athletic trainer and a strength and conditioning coach. He worked at Life Time Fitness and owned his own personal training business, but he didn't like the day-to-day of managing people and working behind the scenes. 

While working with one of his clients, Green mentioned in passing that he was thinking about going to massage therapy school. The woman he was working with at the time of the conversation was a long-time client and family friend, Helene Houle. 

"She said, 'alright, you're going to school then,'" Green said. "And she actually paid for my schooling."

Without Houle's generous gift, Green said he doesn't know if he would have ever actually followed through with it.

"With kids? At that point, I don't think I would have ever done it," Green said. "I don't think I would have had the time or the energy to do it. Without her, I wouldn't be here."

Green worked full-time during the day and completed classes in massage therapy at night for two years, earning his certification from CenterPoint School for Massage and Shiatsu.

Armed with dual certification in both athletic training and massage therapy, Green's career was about to take off and he didn't even know it.

About a year later, the Wild was in need of a massage therapist. Green's connections in the athletic training field got him in the door. One was Tom Kiff from the University of Minnesota, who was friends with Donnie Fuller, the Wild's head athletic trainer at the time. The two had worked together in the early years of the club.

Kiff recommended Green to Fuller, Green showed up in St. Paul the next day and met with Fuller, and while he was there, bumped into then-Wild GM Doug Risebrough. 

Once Risebrough found out why Green was there, he asked him a simple question: the team was heading to California the next day to start the playoffs ... Can you be on the flight? 

It took some re-arranging of his personal training schedule, but Green had the flexibility to be at the airport when the Wild went west the following day. What Green thought at the time would be a week or two of contract work turned into a full-time gig. 

"Right place, right time," Green said. "I laugh, because this was never in my plans. Every athletic trainer, this is their dream job. Every massage therapist wants to work with professional athletes. And I'm very fortunate because it landed in my lap. And I was lucky enough that I was somewhere [in life] where my schedule was flexible enough that I could go that route and do it.

"I feel very, very lucky."

Now 999 NHL games later, Green has been with the team for more than a decade, starting as the Wild's massage therapist early on, and adding the title of assistant athletic trainer in recent years. 

With the Wild, he works with head athletic trainer John Worley and fellow assistant Phil Watson, while also maintaining his massage therapist title.

He's one of only a handful of dual-certified athletic trainers and massage therapists in the NHL. 

"It's invaluable to have a person that can have the skillset and the abilities to balance between both of those specialties," Worley said. "He has that ability to be bench side or rink side and be an athletic trainer, and then also switch that to be back in the training room and the locker room and be that specialized massage therapist that he is."

Beyond just the massage basics, Worley said Green has furthered his education by learning more about tissue work, stretching and flexibility.

"I bet in the 32 teams we have in the NHL, I bet there's not five guys who are certified like he is," Worley said. "In terms of what he brings to our organization and to our staff, he's invaluable." 

And as fate would have it, when the puck drops on game 1,000 Wednesday night in Arizona, on the other bench will be Fuller, now the assistant trainer for the Coyotes. 

"Seeing him back then to seeing him now ... he's come a long ways," Fuller said. "He's done a great job continuing his education and immersing himself in the game because hockey was really new for him. 

"He's about to work his 1,000th game, so obviously he's doing something right. He's done a great job and I think he's got a lot more years ahead of him."

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When Green made the decision to go to massage therapy school almost two decades ago, he did so because he was a firm believer that adding that tool to his toolbox would be able to help athletes. 

He's got believers in the Wild dressing room, including goaltender Cam Talbot, who has grown tight with Green since his arrival in Minnesota, visiting with Green usually once a day at a minimum, during the hockey season.

On game days, Talbot will get worked on by Green in the morning and again in the afternoon before going on the ice for the game.

"He allows me to get on the ice and not be aching every day," Talbot said. "For a guy at my position, at my age, you really rely on a guy like that."

Talbot, who turned 34 in July, said he began to look into massage therapy as a supplement to his normal training regiment "about the time I got to the wrong side of 30." 

"Your body starts to break down a little more and you need more time on the table," Talbot said. "I just gravitated towards that, and I've lucky I've worked with some great guys and Travis is obviously one of them.

"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be able to get out there most days."

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Of course, a job like this comes with plenty of sacrifice. 

Green has missed countless birthdays, holidays, sporting events, and school functions over the years, following the Wild around the country. 

It hasn't always been easy to make those sacrifices, especially for someone who lost his own father at a young age. 

"It's the one thing that probably would have taken me out of this," Green said. "I always asked the kids every year after the season, 'are you guys OK? Now [that they're older] they could care less, but when they were younger, I needed to know they were OK with what I was doing. Most other dads were around for their stuff.

"They always supported me. They love coming and watching the games and that was the one thing that really kept me in this, because I don't know if my heart could have done that."

Green's significant other, Hilary, has been equally as committed over the years. She also works in professional sports, so she understands and lives the grind of a long season, as well as the unique challenges of working with professional athletes much like Green does.

 "She's my partner," Green said. "I don't think anybody else would have put up with my crap. The generosity of my family gave me the chance to be here and do what I do."

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Universally, Green is respected and adored by friends and colleagues inside and outside the dressing room. 

Working inside the confines of an NHL locker room isn't always easy, especially when your background isn't in hockey. Green played pond hockey with his buddies in Alexandria, but was never on a team, and admits he's still learning parts of the sport now because he watches games from a very different perspective of a fan.

But from a personality standpoint and a work ethic perspective, Green has been around for 1,000 NHL games because he's adapted like a hockey lifer.

"When you spend as much time with him as I do, you get to know him on a personal level, not just a professional level," Talbot said. "He's great at his job, but he's an even better human being. You can't say enough good things about Trav. He comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face, ready to work with whoever needs him, never turns anyone away and he'll stay as long as you need him to.

Talbot said he'll enjoy the opportunity to celebrate Green's accomplishment.

"Those guys all do the work behind the scenes and they want no credit," Talbot said. "They work their butts off, they unload the planes and the busses, unpacking gear at two or three on the road trips. Any time we can give them a special night, they deserve it because they don't get enough recognition."

Predictably, part of Green is dreading the game Wednesday night because he knows he'll get some attention from Wild players for reaching 1,000 games. Like the other trainers and equipment managers with whom Green works closely with every day, they prefer to execute their toil in as much anonymity as possible. 

But for one night at least, Wild players and coaches, as well as his in-season "family" of trainers and equipment guys will make a special exception.

"Twelve years together, we've travelled North America and to Europe together, and I can honestly say to you that I cannot count one time that he has come to work and not been in a great mood or been a hard worker or an honest person," Worley said. "I'm very proud. It's almost like he's an adopted brother to me. You pick people for your foxhole, and this guy is in my foxhole."

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