FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: With the Boston Bruins having won the 2011 Stanley Cup, the 2011 off-season begins in earnest, so it is time to resume Frozen Royalty’s series on the career of Los Angeles Kings retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers. In this installment, former Kings players and coaches, including Bob Pulford, Marcel Dionne, Jim Fox, Daryl Evans, Mark Hardy, and Bernie Nicholls, along with current Kings right wing Dustin Brown, share their thoughts and anecdotes about Demers. Part eight of a series.
LOS ANGELES — Retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers spent 34 years in the Los Angeles Kings training room, and he quickly earned the deep respect of the players, coaches, general managers, owners, and team staff, many of whom continue to maintain friendships with him.
“[Demers] was a young guy who came into Los Angeles when I was there,” said Bob Pulford, who played on left wing for the Kings from 1970-71 to 1971-72, and was their head coach from 1972-73 through the 1975-76 season. “In those days, there was two of them [Demers and assistant athletic trainer John Holmes], and they did all the work. He was a hard working guy, and I demanded a lot from him. He learned to do the work, and he did it very well.”
“In those days, you became friends with your employees, and I found him to be a straightforward, wonderful person.”
Demers credits Pulford for making him a “real King.”
“He made me a real King,” he stressed. “Really firm. But if you had on your mind to stay at a place for a long time, you’d want to have it tough on you in the beginning. Something has to mold us into being able to do our jobs. They don’t just keep us here because we bring them their coffee, or something. Pulford was really firm, and I think that made the difference.”
“I got to be really good friends with him,” he added. “I’ve got to thank him for my longevity because he molded into me what it’s all about to be in the NHL. You have to have someone hammering you.”
Pulford acknowledged that he was tough on Demers, and that it was indeed a calculated move.
“I would imagine that I would’ve been difficult on him,” said Pulford. “But I did that to get him to be a better trainer, and I probably made him work a lot harder than he had done in the past. But he became a top trainer, something he’s very proud of now, too.”
“To become a top trainer, he has to know the industry, and he got to do that. You can’t let the players tell you how to treat [their ailments]. He learned to stand up to the players, and he made them do the right thing, which enabled him to give them the right treatment.”
Demers had the privilege of watching every game of the Kings’ famed Triple Crown Line, centered by superstar Marcel Dionne, with left wing Charlie Simmer and right wing Dave Taylor.
“[Dionne] was fun to watch,” said Demers. “He could laugh, and he can still laugh, and he can tell stories. Just watching him play hockey, and imagine how good he would’ve been if he played in Montreal, or on a real good team. I’m not downplaying our team, but [we did not have success].”
Dionne pointed out that Demers’ job was tougher with the Kings being way out on the West Coast.
“The years I was here—twelve years, were wonderful with Peter,” Dionne noted. “He’s a good trainer, a good human being, and a good friend. He’s a guy who got to make a living in a very difficult position, especially on the West Coast. Other trainers had better scheduling, or work ethic, compared to here, because we had very little. Other teams had much better facilities.”
Despite that, Demers had everything under control.
“With Peter, I never worried about [injuries],” said Dionne. He was really professional. I had a sprained ankle that took awhile, similar to what [Pittsburgh Penguins superstar center Sidney] Crosby had a couple of years ago. A lot of times, it’s better to break it. I went hard into the boards and twisted it.”
“I had a couple of separated shoulders, so you miss some time,” added Dionne. “Outside of that, I’ve been very, very lucky. But anything that we needed—we always got bumps and bruises, so we [often] needed attention, and he was there. What we had then, we thought it was the best. The things we had in those days, basically, it was hot packs and ice. Believe it or not, they work. Now, the rehab is much better. Back then, if you were hurt, you had to stay home and do [the rehab work] on your own. Now you have people that stay back with you.”
That guy who played on Dionne’s right side was not just a class act, but he was one of the toughest, hard-nosed players ever to wear the Kings jersey, despite his unassuming demeanor off the ice.
“[Dave Taylor] was the classiest guy to ever walk through the door,” said Demers. “Everything you want your Dad to be, or your son to be, that’s Dave Taylor. He’d come to play every night.”
“I got to know him real well,” added Demers. “When he first came to the Kings, in training camp, he got ‘lace bite.’ That’s in your ankle, where you lace your skates up. The tongue is there, skates are wet, your laces are tight, there’s a lot of chafing. So he got a little infection there, and it went through his whole body. He had to go in the hospital.”
“He’d come to play every night, do his job, go home, wouldn’t say much. He led by example. It was really fun working with him, having him as my boss in later years.”
Taylor is in the unique position of having been a player under Demers’ care, as well as his boss when he served as the Kings general manager from April 22, 1997 to April 18, 2006.
“I was with the Kings for thirty years, and I don’t think Pete missed one game the entire time,” said Taylor. “During my 17 years as a player, he likes to say he saw every one of the 1,111 games that I played.”
“Pete was a real professional,” added Taylor. “He came to work every day, very well prepared. The trainers spend a lot of hours at the rink. They’re the first people there in the morning, and the last to leave at night. When I first came to the Kings in 1977, Pete did a little bit of everything. I remember him ordering equipment, he was taping somebody at the same time, and he had the phone to his ear, ordering sticks.”
“He was doing absolutely everything. It was him and Johnny Holmes. Pete handled everything on the medical side, all the taping, all the massaging, all the rubs, he did all the coordination with the doctors when players were injured. He also worked on the equipment side. He worked on the sticks, ordered all the sticks…he had a heavy, heavy workload.”
Later in Demers’ career, NHL teams expanded their training and equipment staffs as the game evolved.
“Over the years, it became more specialized,” Taylor noted. “We had a massage guy, we had a second equipment guy, a second medical guy. But when he first started, Pete did all the stuff by himself.”
“When I was a manager, I’d be getting calls at midnight from Pete with updates on all the players,” Taylor added. “When the team is on the road and lands in a city, he goes around, room to room, with the medication for the players who need it. If someone needs an ice bag, he brings it. His day never seems to end. I was amazed at the amount of energy he had during the thirty years I spent with him.”
Like Taylor, former Kings right wing Jim Fox, who is eighth on team’s all-time scoring list and serves as the team’s television color commentator, was a player who played the game for keeps.
“He was an intense guy, he played hockey for keeps, night after night,” said Demers. “He’d get mad at himself a lot. I used to run the gate at the Forum. I’d open the gate, and they’d come in. I couldn’t open the gate fast enough for him. He kicked the gate a lot. Sometimes, I’d have these big welts on my legs. My legs are skinny anyway without having more [welts and bruises] on them.”
“He was kicking that gate all the time, so, one night, before the third period started, I put a pair of shin pads on, and I put tape on them,” added Demers. “I walked out into the room with my towel, like I’m getting ready to go to the bench. The whole room went nuts because they knew about Foxy.”
If Fox played the game for keeps, he shared the same attitude about his work that Demers did about his job.
“Two things come to mind right away when I think about Pete,” said Fox. “The first thing is that he is a caring individual. The time that you would spend either hurt or sick, and how many times he would call you at home, and come to your [hotel] room at night if you were on the road, and just do the little things.”
“[Early in his career], Pete not only had to do the medical, he had to do the equipment and everything asked of him,” added Fox. “You’re talking about long hours and long days, and that’s why I brought up the first point, because, at the end of a day, when he must be just exhausted, he made time to call you, or go to your room to make sure you had any medicine you needed, or just to see how you were doing. That’s a professional. That’s a guy who worked hard at his job.”
Fox pointed out that Demers is a King for life.
“Giving your life to the team, giving your life to the franchise—he started in the minor leagues with the Kings’ affiliate,” Fox emphasized. “He’s a life-long King. He still helps our alumni. We go to play a game, and there’s not a lot going on. There’s not much chance for injury. It can happen, and Pete’s there every time, as much as possible, to help out.”
“You’re talking about loyalty. Whenever possible, you reach out your hand to help. That’s Pete. That’s what he does, that’s what he’s made of.”
Former Kings left wing Daryl Evans, currently the team’s radio color commentator, also noted that Demers is still in demand, and has continued his involvement with the Kings, the Los Angeles Kings Alumni Association, and the Kings Care Foundation.
“When I first came on board, he was the trainer, and had already been around for quite awhile,” said Evans. “When you look at a guy who’s been a veteran in his position for such a period of time, the longevity he had, and with the type of career that he had, you know he’s a special part of the organization.”
“I think it’s a credit to him for all the effort that he put in throughout his career, even prior to coming to Los Angeles,” added Evans. “He did a lot of great things, and you’re fortunate to have crossed paths with people like that. It was a great experience, and it’s great to still have a relationship with him, and still see him around.”
Another Kings alumnus who has a unique point of view on Demers is Mark Hardy, who played in two stints on the Kings blue line from 1979-80 to 1987-88, and from 1992-93 to 1993-94, and then went on to serve two stints as an assistant coach from 1999-2006, and from August 2008 to June 2010.
“[Demers] was a father figure to all of us.” said Hardy. “He made sure that he took care of us. I was drafted here in 1979, and [I was] scared, as a kid, coming in, and you don’t know what’s going on. But there he was, ready to take care of us. Any problems we had, he made sure he was there.”
“When I came back in 1993, it was the same thing,” added Hardy. “It was good to see him. He was like a father figure again. He’s always been a caring person, and he always put everybody else in front of him.”
Hardy came into the league when it was still just two guys handling the training and equipment duties.
“They did so much work, two men out there, trying to do everything, and they accomplished it,” Hardy noted. “Pete wasn’t just doing the medical part of it. He was packing bags and helping out Mark O’Neill at the same time. His duties were double back then, and he didn’t get double pay. That’s the type of person he is. He’s just a giving person. He’s always been that way, and he still is now.”
“[Demers put in] tremendous hours,” Hardy added. “What people don’t see is that you’ll fly into a town, and you might not get there until 1:00 in the morning, and the players and coaches go to bed. But there they are, down at the rink with their hands all over that wet equipment. It’s not a great thing, but they do it with a lot of passion, and they do it tirelessly. Then they have to get up at 7:00 in the morning, after just two or three hours of sleep, and they’re right back at the rink again. The hours they put in—it’s just tremendous what they do, and the passion they have for the game and for us.”
When Hardy became a coach, he gained an even greater appreciation for Demers’ work.
“Just to see what they do now, you’re able to see it from the outside point of it, how much time, how many guys are banged up during the year,” said Hardy. “It’s endless. You’re never 100 percent when you’re playing hockey. The time that has to be put in by guys like Pete Demers and [Kings head athletic trainer] Chris Kingsley, it’s non stop.”
“Now they have a lot more help,” added Hardy. “They have two or three helpers, a masseuse. Pete used to do it all. The years he put in, it’s phenomenal, what he did, and the job he did for everybody, and to do it on his own, now you can really look back and say what an amazing feat.”
Demers retired in 2006, and right wing and team captain Dustin Brown is the only current player who knows him well.
“I had two years with Pete,” said Brown. “You’ve got to peel the layers back on him, because he’s been around a long time, and he has a lot of stories. You kind of have to get to know him a little bit before you understand who he is, and he has to get to know you before he begins to open up a little bit.”
“I was injured my first year, so I got to know him pretty well,” added Brown. “There are a lot of funny stories that go along with Pete. We still see him at the events.”
Former Kings center Bernie Nicholls, who holds the franchise record for most goals scored in one season with 70 in 1988-89, was one of many pranksters the Kings have had in their dressing room over their history.
“He was a character,” said Demers. “He had natural talent, natural ability to play hockey, natural ability to move up and down the ice. Effortless—the way he plays hockey.”
“I used to sneak into guy’s rooms [when the Kings were on the road] at night, or during the day at lunch,” Nicholls reminisced. “One time, I snuck into Pete’s room, while he was out with the other trainers. I hid in his bathroom, and I scared that guy. He ran out of the room, screaming.”
Demers was not going to take that sitting down.
“Sometime later, I had a ‘present’ left for me, in my bed, in my sheets,” said Nicholls. “I’ll just leave it at that, you can figure out what it was.”
“Luckily, it didn’t get me. I lift my sheets up every time I go into a new room.”
Hardy also shared a humorous anecdote.
“I used to sneak up on him and scare him,” he said. “Pete is a very hyper guy. One time, I snuck up, and I scared him. There were five or six guys in the medical room, and we were all laughing. But when I turned around to walk out of the room, he snapped. He jumped on my back and started choking me.”
“I was going, ‘Pete, Pete, let me go. Pete, let me go,’” he added, chuckling. “Then I started turning blue. I had to run backwards as fast as I could and hammer him into the wall, and, finally, he let go.”
“He was an intense guy. A nice guy, but he was intense. You could only take him so far. Sometimes, joking around with Pete, you have to watch out.”
If Demers seems to be more than a bit sensitive to being startled, there is a good reason for it.
“I’m a Vietnam era veteran,” he noted. “I was on assignment in Turkey, at Incirlik Air Base, where the U2 [reconnaissance plane] used to fly from. I was in a reconnaissance outfit, the outfit I was in the whole time I was in the United States Air Force. That’s what took me all over the world.”
“We were flying missions out of Turkey,” he added. “We were stationed at a Turkish base—we had one little corner of a Turkish base. To get to our part of the base, we had to go all the way around the whole base just to get to our area of the base. One night, three of us went to town. We came back late, and the bus that goes around the base wasn’t there.”
“It was a no-no to ever cut across—through the Turkish base. But we did anyway. We took a chance, and we got caught.”
Demers and his buddies suffered the consequences of that decision, to put it very, very mildly.
“They had us down on the ground for the night, and they were poking us with their rifles, threatening us,” said Demers. “This was around 1:00 in the morning. They didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Turkish, and these were really gnarly soldiers. Just to give you an idea, they would march in a field for four or five hours at a time, in 90-degree heat, with great, big woolen coats on, and carrying a heavy rifle.”
“They had us down on the ground, flat on our stomachs, all night, and they taunted us for most of the night,” added Demers. “We were scared to death. I was never a drinker, so I was sober. Maybe one of the guys had been drinking, but it didn’t take him long to sober up when they caught us.”
Demers and his buddies were released to their base commander about six hours after they were detained. But those six hours took their toll.
“Every once in awhile, they’d poke us in the back,” Demers recalled. “That has stuck with me, so any time after that, if someone touched me from behind, they would really frighten me, and I would have a negative reaction. When someone touches me from behind, it really scares me.”
To close this story on a lighter note…team buses were frequent venues for jokes, practical and otherwise, and Demers was involved in his share of these as well.
“There was another time on the bus,” said Hardy. “[Demers] was passing out water. As he was going by, I pinched his [buttocks]. He turned around and smashed one of the bottles over my head. The water went everywhere.”
Fortunately, it was not a glass bottle. But Hardy shrugged that off.
“It wouldn’t have mattered with my head, anyway.”
As you might imagine, Pete Demers has a ton of stories to tell from his long career in professional hockey, not to mention his 37 years in the Kings organization. He shares more of those stories in Part nine of this series, which will be published during the week of June 26.
- 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
- 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
- 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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