Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Goes From Stick Boy To 34 Years With Los Angeles Kings
February 15, 2011 30 Comments
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A Mentor Opened Doors
Some people are fortunate enough to have had a mentor in their lives, and Demers was one such person.
“They had an assistant trainer there who was an older guy, and the trainer, George Army, who I had known since I was a little kid, he was getting up there in age himself, so he took me under his wing when I started to go to school at the University of Rhode Island and Brown University,” Demers noted. “Then it got to a point where I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do.”
“My pay was about $75.00 a week with the Rhode Island Reds,” Demers added. “That’s just the way it was then. Less than one dollar an hour, and, for the hours that we were putting in, it was unbelievable.”
“I had a good government job with all kinds of benefits and everything, but my passion [was hockey]. That was what I wanted to do. I couldn’t imagine just being on an assembly line the rest of my life. So I quit that job and went to work with the Rhode Island Reds.”
Not long after, Army would be stricken with cancer, but even while sick, he was hard at work, grooming his protégé.
“George Army started to become pretty ill,” Demers explained. “He had cancer, and couldn’t work as much. I kind of took over. Then, he got pretty sick and couldn’t work at all. I didn’t have enough experience to take right over for that American league team. This was in 1968, and there were only twelve teams in the NHL.”
“Before [the National Hockey League’s] expansion [in 1967-68], the AHL was the top league,” Demers elaborated. “It was a microscope looking down from the [Boston] Bruins or the [New York] Rangers, whatever the [NHL affiliate] was. I just didn’t have the experience to take over as that trainer, so they brought in another trainer, and I worked with him for awhile.”
“George Army, before he died, sent out a message to the other leagues, and I went to work [for the] Columbus [Checkers] in the International Hockey League for three-quarters of a season as the head trainer. Then, the job became open in Springfield in the American league [the Springfield Kings of the AHL were the Los Angeles Kings’ minor league affiliate at the time], and I stepped up there the following year, 1969. I joined the Kings organization with Springfield.”
“It was uphill after that,” said Demers. “I stayed three years in Springfield, and my 34 in LA.”
The Royal Odyssey Begins
Demers has fond memories of his time with the old Springfield Kings.
“We [played] in the old [Eastern States Coliseum, also known as the Big E Coliseum],” Demers reminisced. “The Eastern States Exposition was there. [Former NHL legend] Eddie Shore was around. He owned the building and had some kind of partnership with Jack Kent Cooke. [Shore] had a lot of control over the building, and he would watch very closely how we did our jobs.”
“I remember him coming down to me, telling me that a guy’s skate blade had to be moved over by a tiny bit,” Demers added. “So here’s Eddie Shore talking, so you’d go and do that.”
Shore gained a reputation for some rather odd behavior as owner of that building.
“I remember after I was married [his wife], Marilyn would wait for me after the games,” said Demers. “But Eddie Shore would kick everybody out of the building. She would go into the bathroom, and he would go into the women’s bathroom with a flashlight and look under all the stalls. She would hop up on one of the seats so he couldn’t see her. Otherwise, she had to wait outside in a cold car until I came out.”
“Above the locker room, [Shore] had a driving range,” added Demers. “We’d be in there and between periods, he’d go up to his driving range and our guys would be in the locker room trying to focus on the next period, and these golf balls would be banging [off the floor above them].”
“We won the cup in Springfield,” Demers beamed. “That was very, very exciting. We had to play an extra game, or some kind of extended period to get into the playoffs. We had to play Quebec, and the game went into overtime. Butch Goring was our big star [he would become a star with the Los Angeles Kings and would go on to win four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders], and he went over to Eddie Bush, the coach of the Quebec Aces, and said, ‘I’m going to get the goal. You’d better put your whole team on me.’ This was in overtime, and darn it if Butchie didn’t score that goal.”
“[Goring] was a determined player,” Demers added. “He was fun to watch.”
That team was a tight-knit group, right down to the athletic trainer, and that got Demers into a load of trouble one night.
“We were playing a game in Springfield, and our bench was right next to the penalty box, and two players, [left wing] Dunc Rousseau, who played for the Springfield Kings, and [right wing] Red Armstrong played for [the] Rochester [Americans],” said Demers. “They got into a fight inside the penalty box. A Springfield cop was in the penalty box. He grabbed Dunc Rousseau, so Red Armstrong was just hitting Dunc. So I grabbed the cop.”
That move turned out to be a painful one.
“Seven cops beat me up, really bad, too,” Demers recalled. “[Goaltender] Bruce Landon came over to help me, and they restrained him, also. They took me to a police car, and then to the police station. I was really worried because I had just made all the sandwiches for the bus, and I hadn’t wrapped them up. I was going to do that the next period.”
Demers was released later that night. But there’s more.
“They kept me at the police station, and then the bus came to pick me up,” said Demers. “They let me out to go, and my wife—we had just met, and she saw this.”
Talk about making a great first impression…
For his role in the penalty box scuffle, Demers suffered a beating that was bad enough to prevent him from wearing a motorcycle helmet for a few days. The police also struck the handcuffs he was wearing with a nightstick to make them tighter, causing an injury to one of his radial nerves. The AHL took disciplinary action as well, even though charges against him would eventually be dismissed.
Indeed, Demers is not some hulking behemoth like some hockey players are—far from it, which makes his actions in the penalty box that night surprising, and that is an understatement. But it illustrates how much the concept of team is stressed in hockey compared to other sports.
“We stick together, that’s what makes our game so much fun,” he said. “It’s like no other game. It all goes back to the players. They’re character people. They come from good, solid homes, they have great upbringing.”
“A lot of other sports have that also, but the teamwork it takes to play a hockey game is pretty unique in the surroundings and the sacrifices that kids have to make to play the game of hockey,” he added. “You can go out and play basketball or baseball on any field. But you go to a rink at 5:00 in the morning—that’s the only time you can get ice time. Parents have to come, there’s a big expense for gear and ice time, you make a commitment to be on a little team. My boy was playing hockey, and he was in San Diego one day and Big Bear the next afternoon to play—the sacrifices the parents have to make. It’s a bonding thing you have with your teammates that makes our game so special.”
“We hear it over and over and over again [from] service providers, from people in the airports, our bus drivers that might take us to the hotel and to the rink that you get to know. They all tell us the same things. Hockey players are just a step above other players, character-wise. I’m not saying that other sports don’t have good, character players. But hockey is different. We have characters and we have character players.”
After his stints with the Rhode Island Reds and the Columbus Checkers, along with his three seasons with the Springfield Kings, Demers was hired as the head athletic trainer for the big club in 1972, beginning his 34-year odyssey with the Los Angeles Kings.
Demers’ journey would take him to the Forum in Inglewood, California, the Los Angeles Kings’ home arena until October 1999, when Staples Center opened, and to what is now known as the Culver Ice Arena in Culver City, California, where the team practiced. In the next story in this series, Frozen Royalty will look at what it was like to be the head athletic trainer back in those days (see related stories below).
- LA Kings Retired Trainer Pete Demers Had To Be A Jack Of All Trades
- LA Kings Trainer Emeritus Pete Demers On The Evolution of Treatment, Strength And Conditioning
- Retired LA Kings Trainer Pete Demers Dealt With A Cast Of Characters Right From The Start
- LA Kings Retired Trainer Pete Demers Dealt With Much More Than Injuries To Players
- Wayne Gretzky’s Arrival Changes Everything For LA Kings And Retired Trainer Pete Demers
- LA Kings Retired Trainer Pete Demers Was Honored To Serve On International Stage
- Los Angeles Kings Retired Head Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Is A King For Life
- From Blimp Rides To Breaking Televisions To Waxed Doughnuts, LA Kings Trainer Emeritus Pete Demers Has Seen It All
- Retired LA Kings Trainer Pete Demers Recalls Record-Breaking, Injury-Filled Seasons, 2001-02 to 2005-06
- LA Kings Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Looks Back At Controversy Surrounding His 2006 Departure
- Honored In Obscurity: Los Angeles Kings Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers
- Frozen Royalty Audio: Interviews From The Pete Demers Series
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