FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: In the second story in a multi-part series based on an exclusive interview with retired Los Angeles Kings athletic trainer Peter Demers, Frozen Royalty looks back at Demers’ start with the Kings back in the early 1970’s, and how different the job was back then compared to the present day.
LOS ANGELES — Today, National Hockey League teams have a head athletic trainer, at least one assistant athletic trainer, an equipment manager, a couple of assistant equipment managers, and a strength and conditioning coach. Most teams also have a massage therapist.
But back in the late 1960’s when Pete Demers began his career in professional hockey, through the time he became the head athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Kings in 1972, things were very, very different.
Indeed, when Demers started working with the Rhode Island Reds of the American Hockey League in 1965, or during a brief stint in 1968 with the Columbus Checkers of the International Hockey League, and even with the AHL’s Springfield Kings (the Los Angeles Kings’ minor league affiliate at the time) starting in 1969, there were no equipment managers, strength and conditioning coaches, or massage therapists.
Even when Demers got called up to join the big club all the way across the continent in Los Angeles, nothing changed. The entire staff consisted of the head athletic trainer and the assistant athletic trainer. They handled everything that the trainers, equipment managers, and the rest of the staff do today—an aspect of the game that many who became hockey fans in more recent years are not aware of.
“It was me and [assistant athletic trainer] Johnny Holmes, who was with us for several years before going off to the horse [racing] business,” said Demers. “The job was different. We had one [exercise] bike in the Culver rink [now known as the Culver Ice Arena, in Culver City, California, where they practiced].”
“I was the trainer, I was also the equipment manager, so I ordered all the gear,” added Demers. “You also did the strength and conditioning, the massage—they have a guy for that now. Then you do the assistant equipment manager’s job.”
To be sure, athletic trainers for professional hockey teams epitomized the phrase, Jack of all trades.
“It all goes back to the different jobs that we had,” Demers explained. “Back then, you had to open the door, you were the only one. We had to bring their gear from the Forum [the Kings’ home arena in Inglewood, California, from December 30, 1967 until October 20, 1999, when they played their first game at Staples Center] to the practice rink. I used to take that gear at night—I’d rather do it at night than in the morning, so I just did it alone at night. It was nine trips up the stairs at Culver rink. I just remember carrying two bags [per trip].”
“We had a second set of gear, but you would have the guys’ skates, which always stayed with them, and you’d have several pairs of gloves, you had the coaches’ gear, and the goalies’ gear, and you had the towels, and maybe another bag or two,” Demers elaborated. “Anyway, it was nine trips up the stairs. You’d put the heat on and hang up the gear—those skates were wet from the night before. Then, you’d go home.”
“In the morning, you’d go back to the Culver rink, and maybe, make the coffee. Then you had to start your follow-up stuff. This guy needed skates, this guy needed sticks, another guy needs an appointment at the doctor, you need this medicine, that guy’s Dad needed a hearing aid and he lives in Russia, this guy’s wife’s sick, this guy’s kid’s sick, my wife’s got a sore wrist, can you get her in to see the doctor? You’re ordering medical supplies from somewhere else, this guy’s sticks didn’t come in, where are they?”
All that probably makes you wonder if there was anything the trainers didn’t do.
“You had to wait until the last guy left at the Forum before you took the gear from after a game,” said Demers. “Then, maybe you’ve got a guy at the hospital. You have to go to the hospital, check on his x-ray, see how he’s doing, and then, go back to the Forum and load the stuff up in a pick-up truck and take it to the Culver rink.”
“I’d always be home, in bed, by 1:00 AM,” added Demers. “For a 10:00 AM practice, you’re there at 8:00 AM, so you’d be back up at 7:00 AM. Not too bad. Then, on the other hand, you’re on the road, you play a game, you fly to a city, you go to the rink—after the late 70’s, we didn’t put the stuff on the bus anymore. But we used to put the stuff on the bus, take the players and drop them at the hotel, and then go to the rink with the gear.”
“While you’re at the hotel, the bus driver would be waiting for you to go to the rink. You’d take care of your injured players in the hotel, and then you’d run back down to the bus and go to the rink to hang up the 35 pieces of gear that you have. Then you go back to the hotel—sometimes, it’s 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.”
Indeed, Demers had to work long hours that started early in the morning and often ended during the wee hours of the following morning, and the work could be back breaking.
“Say you were playing the next day…they wouldn’t bring the guys to the rink that morning,” Demers recalled. “They’d have a meeting at noon, or something, But the guys that didn’t play the night before, or injured guys that you wanted to bring in, you’d bring them in at 10:00 AM. So, you’d be back at the rink by 8:30 AM, or so, to take care of those guys, and they’d want to skate—the goalie who didn’t play, maybe he was going to play tonight, so he needs care.”
“Then you go back to the hotel at 1:00 PM, have a little power nap for a couple of hours,” Demers added. “Then you’re back at the rink at 4:00 PM, and the show starts all over again.”
While Demers and Holmes toiled away for long, long hours, their work did not go unnoticed by the players.
“These guys were working so hard,” said former Kings superstar goaltender Rogie Vachon, who played eight seasons with the Kings from 1971-72 to 1977-78, holds nearly all franchise records for goaltenders, and had his jersey number 30 retired by the team on February 14, 1985. “You had one trainer, and one [assistant], and that was it. On the road, there was nobody else [to help them]. Now they have help all over the place.”
“These two guys were working night and day,” added Vachon. “After the team would go on the road, we’d [arrive] in the city at 2:00 in the morning, they had to go to the rink and unpack everything to get ready for practice the next day or the game the next day. Don’t forget, we used to travel [on] commercial [flights] all the time. We didn’t have private jets, or anything like that [NHL teams fly on chartered flights today]. They used to bring all the equipment to the airports and get it [on the plane].”
“These guys were working hard. They earned their money.”
Demers, the jack of all trades, also had to take care of the laundry, along with other tasks, back in the 70’s,
“After the game, not only would I take the gear to Culver rink, I’d take the jerseys, every other game, out to South San Pedro Street,” he reminisced. “Straight down Manchester [Boulevard] to a cleaners. A lady—her husband worked at the Forum—she ran a cleaning business. She cleaned the jerseys.”
“Weeks ago, [his wife] Marilyn and I were driving up Fairfax Avenue [in Los Angeles],” he added. “I used to go, on game days, up Fairfax to the Farmers Market. There was a tradition in hockey. You’d cut oranges into eight pieces, put them in a towel, and go around the locker room between periods. You gave them oranges.”
“We’d use half a case of oranges each game. I’d drive up Fairfax on the day of a game and buy a case of oranges. That’s just what we did.”
Back in the 70’s, Demers’ job was even more difficult given the lack of technology that is taken for granted today.
“We had no cell phones, no computers,” Demers noted. “Everything was on paper. Then we started injury analysis in the late 70’s—all done on paper. The electronic transmission of information—cell phones, all that stuff, has made a big change. We’re able to do that much better a job of caring for our players.”
“It was a phenomenal change with cell phones,” Demers added. “If I was home and needed to talk to a player—you might need a report on a player, so you’d call the doctor. Then you call that player and tell him what the doctor found. You call the [general manager], then you call the coach. You’ve got four or five calls to make just on one injury, and you might do that three or four, five times a day. Might be two hours later that you’re getting a report on somebody else.”
“Now they just send a text message, but I had to pull over to the side of the road all the time to find a phone booth. That’s just the way it was.”
It is very difficult to imagine today, given the great dependence on technology, how they got anything done back then, especially with just two people doing all that work.
“We just did those jobs,” said Demers. “But we look now at how much you can spend to really do a good job—like a lot of the stuff we had to do was a ‘band-aid’ approach. How could we do anymore? It’s not that we didn’t have the knowledge. We didn’t have the time. We were wearing so many hats.”
“It would be pretty overbearing to wear all of the hats of the people they have now,” added Demers. “It’s more of a business now. There’s still the camaraderie and sense of family within the organization, but there’s so many people involved.”
With more staff to carry the load, they can pay more and better attention to detail.
“You have a trainer, an assistant trainer, a strength coach, a massage therapist,” said Demers. “You have all these people involved, and you have all the equipment guys, three of them. We have five guys traveling with every team now. In the past, it was two, and the trainer had the brunt of the responsibility on his shoulders.”
“[Paying the necessary attention to detail]—it’s something we did all along, we just didn’t spend as much time on it,” added Demers. “Guys don’t work in our league for twenty years without being on top of every detail. Those guys are gone in the first five years. You have to pay attention to detail.”
“That all carries over to all the different jobs that they have now. So we still come in at the same time, early in the morning. But it’s more specific. We’re more dignified now than we were back then because we were just trying to fill in the gaps and get a job done, so line up the jobs. I still do that. Line up the jobs in a day and I’ll just do them. Just put my head down and do them.”
Despite the evolutionary changes behind the scenes in terms of adding staff and compartmentalizing their duties and responsibilities, not everything has changed.
“The whole scenario, the whole deal is still exactly the same as it was back in 1965 when I started,” said Demers, who retired in 2006 after working 2,632 consecutive games for the Los Angeles Kings. “You come in in the morning and you prepare things. You’re the first guy to get there and the last guy to leave. It’s still like that, except that there’s more staff.”
The added staff has brought greater efficiency and effectiveness to the behind-the-scenes work needed to keep the Los Angeles Kings, or any NHL team, running on all cylinders.
“You can come in in the morning now, sit down at your desk, look at your e-mail or messages that you might have, and take care of just your medical stuff,” Demers explained. “The equipment guys can take care of just the equipment stuff. The strength coach is in his office, planning—we’ll turn the players over to the strength coach. We’re in charge of their rehab when they’re first injured. But when they’re cleared by the doctor, we’ll turn them over to the strength coach, so we might go over to his office to talk about a player’s rehab and restraints and restrictions. Then we might go into the coaches room and give him an update on who can full practice, who can skate on his own, maybe go out twenty minutes early, who can’t go out on the ice at all, who’s getting evaluated today by the doctor, who got hurt last night, who we think should rest today.”
“We would do that stuff in the past, but it would be so fast,” Demers elaborated. “Now I call it dignity. Now we’re not running around as much. We’re able to do our jobs with dignity because we’ve expanded our staff. That is, by far, the biggest change of all. We wore so many hats before. Now, you’re [just] the athletic trainer.”
“The way it is now, it gives us so much more dignity when we do our jobs. We don’t have to be running around worrying about ordering this guy’s sticks, or different details of someone else’s job when we have our job.”
Just as technology and other factors have changed the job of the athletic trainer, the treatment of injuries, not to mention the thinking about strength and conditioning, have evolved dramatically as well. Part three of this series will look at this evolution from the 70’s to the present day.
- Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Goes From Stick Boy To 34 Years With Los Angeles Kings
- 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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