FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: In part five of an exclusive series based on an extensive interview with Los Angeles Kings head athletic trainer emeritus Pete Demers, Frozen Royalty takes a look at the most visible aspect of his job, caring for injured players…and trainers are definitely not immune from injury or illness, either…
LOS ANGELES — For athletic trainers in the National Hockey League, their most important job is to treat injured players and help them recover from their injuries, and in a 34-year career with the Los Angeles Kings, retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers has probably treated more injuries and illnesses than any of his colleagues, past or present, and not just those suffered by players.
To be sure, caring for injured players is the one aspect of the athletic trainer’s duties that is the most visible, and for Demers, it was no different. Like other trainers, he was most noticeable whenever he jumped over the boards and scurried out onto the ice to care for an injured player.
Even before he made it to the NHL, Demers already had experience dealing with serious injuries.
“When I was in Providence [with the Rhode Island Reds of the American Hockey League], a player got the end of his finger cut off,” said Demers. “The trainer was sick, so I had taken over. I ran out onto the ice. His finger was just hanging off. The piece came right off. So I wrapped it in a piece of gauze, put it in my pocket, and took him out the back door and up the ramp a little bit.”
“I put him in my car and drove him to the hospital, which was about a minute away, two blocks,” added Demers. “The doctor came and sewed his finger back on.”
Star center Butch Goring, who joined the Kings in 1972, the same year that Demers came to Los Angeles after three seasons with their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Kings, came within a hair of losing an eye in a game.
“I remember, in the early years, Butch Goring got a skate in the eye,” Demers recalled. “We watched him for three or four days in the hospital. We didn’t know if he was going to lose his eye or not.”
“[New York Islanders superstar defenseman] Denis Potvin was skating with the puck, and Butch poke checked the puck from behind, and poked the puck away from him,” Demers added. “Potvin’s leg came up. The old skates—it was just a skate blade sticking out [from the back end]. There was no plug, or anything.”
Goring, who is sixth on the Kings’ all-time scoring list with 275 goals and 384 assists for 659 points in 736 regular season games from 1971-72 to 1979-80, before winning four Stanley Cups with the Islanders, also suffered a severe laceration in a game against the Detroit Red Wings.
“Butch Goring had the worst laceration that I have ever seen, in his thigh, at Detroit one night,” said Demers. “I’ll bet they put 100 stitches in on the inside before they ever started sewing up the outer layer.”
“It was cut right down to the bone,” added Demers. “His pants rose up, and he was cut right through his sock.”
Superstar and should-be-Hockey Hall of Fame 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, blew out his knee during his first season with the Kings.
“The [injury] that sticks out is when I popped my knee in 1971, the first year I was with the Kings,” said Vachon. “I wound up having major surgery, and I was out for the year.”
“I remember Pete used to come, he’d look at me, trying to find out what it was,” added Vachon. “I was trying to shake my leg, and then I kept going. So I said, ‘I’m OK, don’t worry about it, everything’s going to be fine.’”
“I kept playing, but then my knee completely gave out. My ligament was totally torn apart. They had to put a staple in there to correct it.”
Right wing Dave Taylor, who played 1,111 regular season games in 17 seasons with the Kings, scoring 431 goals and adding 638 assists for 1,069 points with 1,589 penalty minutes, had his career ended in 1994 due to the cumulative effect of several concussions.
“Dave Taylor…center ice, he got hit and went way up in the air, and came down,” Demers noted. “He suffered a concussion, and went through that for quite some time.”
Taylor remembered parts of that incident.
“The one I remember was late in my career at the Forum when I got a concussion,” said Taylor, who played on the famed Triple Crown Line with Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer, and scored 26 goals and tallied 33 assists for 59 points with 149 penalty minutes in 92 playoff games with the Kings. “I got hit from behind, and lost my helmet. I hit my head on the ice, and the first thing I remember was that Pete was there with me. He said, ‘OK, just take your time, take your time.’”
“I was probably out for a little while, and one thing about Pete was that whenever somebody got hurt, he was coming over the boards. He was getting out there as quick as he could. I don’t know how long that was, probably just a couple of seconds, but that was the first thing that I remembered was that Pete was down on one knee beside me, saying, ‘OK, take your time, relax. How ‘ya doin’.’ He calmed me down a little bit.”
Other former Kings players said the same thing.
“He was pretty fast, too,” said Vachon. “When someone was injured on the ice, it took him two seconds. He was right there.”
Former Kings right wing and current television color commentator Jim Fox, who played ten seasons at right wing for the Kings from 1980-90 and is ranked eighth on their all-time scoring list, also suffered a blow to the head one night.
“I remember the play, because I was coming around the net at the Forum,” Fox reminisced. “Mike Foligno hit me with a perfectly clean check, shoulder to the jaw, and I was dazed.”
“I never lost consciousness,” Fox added. “But I remember I was on my hands and knees in the other team’s zone, in the slot, and the play was still going on, but I could not figure things out. The only thing that came to mind was don’t move, Pete will come and get you.”
“[Fox] wasn’t sure how he was,” Demers said about the incident. “He just laid on the ice and thought, ‘don’t worry, Pete’s coming.’ That’s a pretty good compliment.”
“When you’re laying out there on the ice, you’d better hope that I know what I’m doing when I’m coming out there,” Demers added. “They have to have the confidence and the trust. It’s all about paying attention to detail. That’s why you have to keep your eyes on the play so much, and on all the aspects of the play. The first thing the doctor is going to ask you is about the mechanics of an injury. ‘How’d he get hit?’ You have to have those answers.”
Trust was at the root of Fox’s thoughts when he was down on the ice.
“That’s just a trust you build up,” said Fox. “You work with a person long enough, or you see how a person works long enough, you build up a trust.”
“Believe me, I could not put more than one thought together,” added Fox. “I was scrambled. I had a concussion after that. I missed about five days, maybe a week or so. But that was my first thought. Maybe it gave me that feeling you need, that someone is going to take care of you, and that guy was Pete.”
Former Kings defenseman Mark Hardy, who scored 53 goals and added 250 assists for 303 points with 858 penalty minutes in 616 regular season games during two stints with the Kings, credited Demers, not just with his recovery, but getting him back in the lineup early.
“I hurt my wrist very, very badly, I think it was in 1985,” said Hardy, who also served two stints as an assistant coach with the Kings. “Pete helped me after the surgery. He helped me rehab it so I could get back as soon as I could. That was probably the worst injury that I had, and there he was every day, making sure that things were good for me.”
“He made sure that I did it right, and, consequently, I got back faster than I was supposed to,” added Hardy.
Demers earned a reputation for always putting the people in his care first.
“I broke my jaw here, I broke my finger, which was tough,” said former Kings center Bernie Nicholls, who ranks fifth on the Kings’ all-time scoring list with 327 goals and 431 assists for 758 points in 602 regular season games. “But no matter what you had, Pete worked on you. He had all the time in the world for you.”
“I remember that I got a charley horse in Philadelphia one night,” added Nicholls, who played nine seasons with the Kings from 1981 to 1990. “They had to put a needle into my thigh because it just kind of exploded. I don’t know what that was for—to flush it out or do something to it, but I always remember that. We were probably in his room until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning treating it, because I had to play the next day. He always had time for you. It was awesome.”
Former Kings right wing, defenseman and enforcer Marty McSorley, who scored 71 goals and added 163 assists with 1,846 penalty minutes in 472 regular season games with the Kings, echoed those sentiments, but from a different perspective.
“I probably broke every finger, my nose several times, I dislocated my jaw, there’s so many,” said McSorley who played eight seasons with the Kings from 1988-89 to 1993-94, and from 1994-95 to 1995-96. “But when my hip started to go bad, and you continuously pull your groin, preparing and getting loose for games became a chore. As you get a little bit older, unfortunately, you really need help to get ready for the games, and Pete was good.”
“If I said, ‘Pete, I’ll be best served today by just riding the bike and working out, because I’m stiff, or [something else],’ he knew I meant it, because our relationship was that I’m not going to snow him, and he wasn’t going to snow me.”
One of the most severe injuries Demers dealt with came in late January 1996, when winger Tony Granato, who scored 148 goals and tallied 157 assists for 305 points in 380 regular seasons games with the Kings, complained of headaches.
“I remember Tony Granato,” Demers said. “He had a concussion issue. He called me one night, about 1:00 in the morning. He said, ‘I had a headache, and got up to take some Tylenol. There’s a picture here of my teammates, and I can’t recognize them.’”
“That was a scary time,” Demers added. “We got him to a hospital.”
As it turned out, Granato, who played seven seasons with the Kings from 1989-90 to 1995-96, had an intracerebral hematoma, a blood clot, in the left temporal lobe of his brain. In mid-February, he underwent four hours of surgery, performed by Dr. Neil Martin, at UCLA Medical Center, to correct the problem.
Granato made a full recovery, and finished his NHL career in 2000-01, playing five seasons with the San Jose Sharks.
Demers’ work did have its lighter moments.
“I had a high ankle sprain my first year, and he was doing ultrasound on it,” said Kings right wing and team captain Dustin Brown, who is one of just two current players who were with the team when Demers retired in 2006, after 2,632 consecutive games with the Kings. “That’s a 15-minute [treatment]. Two minutes into it, he gets a phone call he has to take. He just said, ‘keep doing this,’ so I ended up doing it myself. I didn’t know at the time that it was only a 15-minute thing.”
Brown was also unaware that the ultrasound machine automatically shuts off after the prescribed treatment time.
“So he took the phone call, and, apparently, forgot about me,” Brown said, chuckling. “He was on the phone for about 45 minutes. He came out of his office, and I’m still doing the ultrasound. He said, ‘you don’t need to be doing this. That was done thirty minutes ago.’”
But it wasn’t just the players, coaches, and team staff that Demers helped. Indeed, every so often, he had to go above and beyond.
“One night, we were at the Forum, and a girl got hit with a puck in the eye,” Demers reminisced. “This was in the early 70’s. You don’t go in the stands. You just don’t do that. But that was a little girl, so I went in the stands. I covered her eye, and held her for quite awhile until we could get the right care for her. I even got my eye doctor to come.”
“I went to see her in the hospital a couple of times, but then I lost track of her,” Demers added. “I think she lost her eye, but I’m not really sure. But, a few years ago at Tip A King, a girl comes up to me and said she was that girl that I helped, and she thanked me. We hugged there. That was pretty good.”
“You just feel like, maybe, you made a contribution to help someone. That’s what we do, and it was nice that she would come back and say, ‘hey, you’re the guy who helped me that night.’”
With legal liability being such an overarching concern these days, Demers’ actions on that night might not be as automatic today as one might like to think.
“I didn’t have to go in the stands,” he emphasized. “I went because I wanted to, because a little girl was hit. We have compassion when [something like that happens]. You see people get hit all the time. We used to throw towels up, you’d look and see how they’re doing. But we never go in the stands because it’s out of our domain, and maybe it wouldn’t be ethical. But in this case, you throw your ethics aside, you go by your gut feeling, that she needs help.”
Journalists and others traveling with the team were also cared for by Demers.
“There’s one thing that gave me so much pride, and that was to be able to take care of those behind the scenes guys,” said Demers. “There’s no differentiation between someone who’s on the plane, they’re all the same whether it’s the general manager or the lowest player, or the top broadcaster, or the guy handling the truck. If they’re on that plane, they’re part of us. There was always a great feeling that I got to be able to take care of those guys. They’d get sick just like everybody else.”
“We had [the late] Matt McHale [former beat writer covering the Kings for the Los Angeles Daily News on the plane],” added Demers. “He was sick one night, real sick. We landed at [Los Angeles International Airport], and I took him to the hospital in my car in Glendale. Stayed there a couple of hours with him. It’s that satisfaction that we get [from] helping someone else.”
Indeed, the athletic trainer has his hands full with treating injuries and working with players recovering from them. But what happens when the trainer gets hurt?
“In the early years, we trained in Victoria, [British Columbia],” Demers explained. “After practice, players would take shots at the goalie. The extra players might stay on the ice a little longer, and that’s still common now. But the gate to come off the ice was right behind the net. I was standing at least 25-30 feet inside the gate in the hallway. A puck came through the gate, went off the wall, and hit me in the ribs. Broke three ribs. I thought someone hit me with a baseball bat.”
“I went to the doctor, who put some tape on it, and an ice bag,” Demers elaborated. “You just go and do what you’ve got to do.”
First it was his ribs. Next was his head.
“Another time, I was in the Culver rink [now known as the Culver Ice Arena in Culver City, California],” said Demers. “[Defenseman] Larry Playfair [who played four seasons with the Kings from 1985-96 to 1988-89] shot a puck around the wall and hit me. I was by the side of the dressing room, just ready to go into the locker room. I didn’t know what hit me. They called 911 and took me to the hospital. I was pretty dizzy.”
“They released me from the hospital, and I went outside and sat on a wall,” added Demers. “I had called my wife from inside. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t remembered anything. I don’t know why they released me, but they did.”
On a road trip in the mid-1980’s, Demers came within a hair of being killed.
“In 1985 or 1986, I was in the truck in New York, taking us from the Islanders to the Rangers,” Demers recalled. “We were on the Northern State Parkway, and we were driving along. It was kind of foggy as we were driving over a hill. We were having some sandwiches. I was in the passenger seat, and Mark O’Neill, our assistant trainer, was in the middle—there was no seat. There was a folding chair, and all the gear was behind us. I was cutting a sandwich with bandage scissors to share with the driver.”
“We smashed into another car, but just before we were going to smash into it, I went down by the motor cover to try to protect myself, and Mark O’Neill’s knee went right into the back of my neck,” added Demers. “It’s still sore. The skate machine folded the seat I was in, down, and went into the windshield, breaking the windshield. If I had stayed there…”
Despite escaping his brush with death, the ordeal was not yet over.
“We had to get our van off the road, so we got out, and I couldn’t move,” Demers noted. “With one arm, I helped push the van off the road. Then, we walked up to an exit, and called another truck to come and get us. I wrapped a towel around my neck, and put tape around it.”
“I remember calling the doctor, telling him what happened,” Demers added. “He just prescribed some medicine from LA, and I took it out of the medical bag—we had that supply of medicine—muscle relaxers and a pain killer. I put some ice on it, and off [we went].”
“We didn’t know any better. Maybe I should’ve laid in the road beside the truck. But that’s the way we were motivated. Who else is going to do our job? You just keep working.”
Who else indeed.
“I remember in Montreal…I was stretching [former Kings defenseman] Sean O’Donnell,” said Demers. “He’s such a big guy, I was trying to get into a better position to stretch him, and I tore the meniscus in my knee. It was the day my mother died. They called me in the morning. Then, I went to the rink.”
“I knew right away that I had torn it,” added Demers. “I just put an ice bag on it, put a knee sleeve on it, and went to work the game. I went back home, and about two weeks later, we had a couple of days between games, and after practice in the afternoon—it was a Monday. I had surgery on my knee, and Tuesday morning, I went to work. That’s just the way you do it.”
Demers injured his other knee on another road trip.
“I was getting out of the back of the truck one night—we were loading stuff onto the belt loader to go into the airplane,” he explained. “So we backed the truck up to the belt loader. Somebody gets down by the belt loader, and you throw the bags to them. I finished helping do that. I went to get out of the truck, and my leg caught in a little rut that was there in the truck. I went down and my knee stayed, tearing my other meniscus.”
“Same deal,” he elaborated. “I waited until we had a couple of days between games, and then, after practice, I went and had [surgery] in the afternoon, and went to work the next day.”
Like the rest of us, trainers get sick on occasion.
“I went to Vancouver for the All-Star Game, in the 70’s,” said Demers. I sat at the head table next to Scotty Bowman. That was pretty exciting. I was on the [same] floor with all the Toronto Maple Leafs guys. That was unbelievable. I don’t know, but I must’ve eaten something.”
“The next morning, I left,” added Demers. “There were no charter [flights] or anything. I got on a flight to come back. We got halfway back and I started getting sick on the plane, We had a game that night. I went to the game, and I was so sick. I was throwing up into a towel and throwing that under the stands at the Forum. Somebody drove me home, and I could hardly hold my head up.”
One night, having a drink with the boys turned out to be a problem.
“In Detroit, in one of the early years, the players would go to this bar called the Lindell A.C.,” Demers reminisced. “Jimmy [Butsicaris] was the bartender there. He always had a gun in his pocket. It was in kind of a scary neighborhood [in the Downtown area]. [Former Kings defenseman] Gilles Marotte [who played five seasons with the Kings from 1969-70 to 1973-74] was there, one of our players. Guys were having their beers, so they gave me some wine, and I’m not a drinker. I got sick, and we had to work practice the next morning.”
“I got through the practice, but after practice, I went over to the Red Wings locker room—they were gone on the road,” Demers added. “I went in there and laid down on the rubbing table, taking it easy. Their gear was gone on their road trip, and our gear was hanging in our room. It was smelly after practice, and I needed some cleaner air, so I went into their locker room. Ted Lindsay walked in. I knew him and recognized him right away. He said, ‘hey kid…you up all night?’ He gave me a little rib. ‘Welcome to the league,’ that kind of stuff. I’ll never forget that. That was Ted Lindsay.”
“I’m no different from those 16,000 people who walked into the Forum every night, or the 18,000 people who walk into Staples Center. I’m a hockey fan. It’s in our blood. So that was a pretty touching moment when he came over to say hello to me, and I had my Kings gear on. He knew who I was.”
Some of the injuries Demers suffered were from all that work he did when the behind-the-scenes staff consisted of Demers and one assistant. Together, they handled the medical duties, all the equipment, massage and strength and conditioning.
“I had a lot of wear and tear from slinging those hockey bags for all those years,” Demers noted. “The last two years, presently, I’ve had three shoulder surgeries, and one elbow surgery.”
The world was turned upside down for the Los Angeles Kings on August 9, 1988, when they acquired the best hockey player ever to lace up a pair of skates, center Wayne Gretzky. For Demers, his world changed as well, and in the next story in this series, he shares his recollections of his time working with The Great One.
- Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Goes From Stick Boy To 34 Years With Los Angeles Kings
- 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
- 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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