FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE — In Part nine of a series, Los Angeles Kings retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers shares more stories involving players, coaches and general managers he worked with during his long career.
LOS ANGELES — In a 41-year career in professional hockey, Los Angeles Kings retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers has certainly seen and heard enough to fill the pages of a good-sized book, sights and sounds that fans and even the media would virtually never have access to.
Whether it was the pre-game rituals some players adhered to game after game, the practical jokes, humorous stories, or just memories of the different characters in and out of the training room, Demers saw it all in 37 years with the franchise, beginning with three years with Springfield of the American Hockey League (the Kings’ minor league affiliate from 1967-75 and 1977-79) before he joined the Los Angeles Kings in 1972.
“Every player will put one skate on before the other one,” Demers said about some of those pre-game rituals. “Some players like to get dressed really early before a game. [Former Boston Bruins all-time great defenseman] Bobby Orr would get dressed at 5:00. Some players come to the rink real early. [Former Kings forward] Ian Laperriere would come to the rink with us on the road at 3:30 PM on a game day.”
“Everybody’s different, that’s what make the job so much fun,” Demers added. “They have all these different things that they like to do. Some guys will take two cups of coffee, put ice in it and down it, just to get a little bit of caffeine. Some guys like a candy bar before the game. [Former Montreal Canadiens superstar forward] Guy Lafleur used to have a cigarette and a hot dog between periods.”
Some pre-game rituals simply do not lend themselves to any sort of comment at all.
“There was a player [who used] Vicks VapoRub,” said Demers. “Usually, you’d put a little under your nose, and it would give you a good feeling. This guy would take two fingers full and put it right on his tongue. That was his way of preparing for the game.”
Moving right along…then there were the characters in the game.
“[Former Kings goaltender] Mario Lessard was a fun guy,” Demers recalled. “I said to him, ‘one of these days, you’re really going to hurt your groin if you’re not doing any stretching.’”
“He said, ‘you can’t pull fat,’” Demers added with a laugh.
Another character—and that would be an understatement—was former Kings forward Dave “Tiger” Williams.
“We have a paraffin wax tub where you soak your hand in it and it gives you heat,” Demers said. “It heats up to 115 degrees, but you don’t get burned because the wax insulates you. You put your hand in this melted wax, and it’s good for rehabilitating hand injuries.”
“Guys would bring doughnuts in in the morning,” Demers added. “This was a long time ago, at the Forum. They’d eat the doughnuts during the course of the day, and they were always gone before night came. One night, [former team physician] Dr. [Vince] Carter came in. He had been in surgery all day long. Tiger Williams heard him say that he’d been in surgery all day and hadn’t had a chance to eat. While we’re talking to the doctor, Tiger Williams took two plain doughnuts and dipped them in the paraffin wax.”
“Hey Doc, there’s a couple of doughnuts. They’d been there since this morning, but they’re still pretty good,” said Demers, quoting Williams.
With no apparent harm coming from the waxed doughnuts, Demers went along with the gag.
“He took a big bite of one and started to swallow it, and we didn’t have the heart to tell him to stop,” Demers recalled, chuckling. “The camaraderie that we have, you can’t take that away. No one knows how much fun it is. We should get fined for having so much fun. That’s the way it is.”
In days long past, NHL rookies were subjected to an initiation that could easily put the “Hell Week” hazing that used to take place routinely at many college fraternities to shame.
Indeed, when Lessard was a Kings rookie in 1978-79, he got the “royal treatment,” and that is putting it mildly.
“We used to have initiation of players,” Demers noted. “You can’t do that anymore. They’d call their agent. They gave Mario the full initiation. They’d shave you, then [came the] black shellac that we used to put on the toes of the skates. They blindfolded him, taped him to a chair, naked. Then, they put him in the elevator, hit all the buttons for each floor, and went to bed. That’s just the way it was.”
“They all had to go through that,” Demers added. “That was a tradition in hockey. All the rookies had to go through initiation. The shaving was part of it, and you didn’t jump too much, or they’d give you a red belly. That’s where they’d bang on your belly real hard. But now, the game has changed. You can’t do that anymore.”
In case you haven’t guessed, there was more to the initiation of players back then, but those details are not appropriate for publication.
“There’s jokes that maybe wouldn’t go on now,” said Demers. “I remember we were at the New York Rangers. I stay on the right side of the bench. At the end of the bench, there’s no space. It narrows down and meets the glass. There’s a spot for me, and to be out of the coaches’ way, I go down to the right corner, next to the backup goalie.”
“One night, that was Mario Lessard,” added Demers. “We were both a little hungry, so after one of the periods, he brings out two hot dogs. He got the stick boy to get the hot dogs. He had them in his catching glove. He carried them out to the bench, and we’re eating these hot dogs, trying to hide them. Bob Berry [who was the head coach at the time] caught us and yelled at us.”
Food was involved in another story, but this one was not humorous. Rather, it highlighted the long hours and dedication of athletic trainers in the NHL.
“At the end of the year, we’ll have a review by the coach and the general manager,” said Demers. “That’s common. [Former Kings head coach] Robbie Ftorek never said anything to me about it, but he complained to Rogie [Vachon, then, the Kings general manager] in my review, that [I’m] in the locker room eating in front of the players.”
“Rogie just told him, ‘did you ever think about what time he came to work this morning, and what time he goes home at the end of the night? Maybe he’s hungry,’” added Demers. “So they left it at that.”
“We had no food in the locker room. I always had my tuna sandwich, or an egg white sandwich that [his wife] Marilyn made for me, and that’s what I’d eat. Maybe I couldn’t get home that day. You don’t have time to go out for lunch. We wouldn’t even think of it.”
Some of the coaches were characters in their own right.
“[Former Kings head coach] Don Perry was a real fiery coach,” Demers noted. “Tough, really hard core. Played in the Eastern hockey league. He was our coach here, and we were in Culver City, practicing there, going back and forth to the Forum. One night, he called me and said, ‘pick me up at my house tomorrow morning at 7:30.’”
“I said, ‘but we’ve got practice.’”
“Here I was, more or less a one-man show,” Demers explained. “We had a couple of guys, as far as the medical end was concerned. But he said, ‘don’t worry about it, we’ll be OK. Bring a jacket.’”
“I asked, ‘where are we going?’”
“He said, ‘I’ll tell you when you get here.’”
“So I picked him up in Culver City, and we’re going down the 405, and he told me, ‘we’re going on the [Goodyear] blimp. We’re going for a blimp ride.’”
“He knew somebody, so that was pretty exciting,” said Demers. “Our team was in Culver City, practicing. That was a fun thing to do. We bagged practice and went on a blimp ride. That wouldn’t happen now.”
Demers worked under eight general managers and 15 different head coaches during his time with the Kings, a telling indicator of the Kings’ success, or lack thereof, throughout their history. Despite that, the Kings have had their moments and their share of talented players.
“Even though we didn’t have great success, we saw some great hockey and great players, not only on our team, but other teams,” said Demers.
One such player was former Kings defenseman Steve Duchesne, who displayed great offensive skill from the blue line as soon as he stepped onto the ice at the Forum in his rookie season in 1985-86.
At one point during his time with the Kings, Duchesne had a bit more than his share of bad luck with his teeth.
“He got his teeth knocked out, and I told him that we’d send him to our dentist to make some temporary [teeth],” said Demers. “You can play with those and see how they hold up. You can play with them until the end of your career, if you’re good.”
“He said, ‘OK, make the appointment.’”
“The next morning, he said that he wanted to go to his own dentist in Beverly Hills,” Demers noted. “$20,000 for three or four new front teeth. He had to have them. We got it approved by worker’s compensation, or something.”
“They put those teeth in, and it wasn’t three games later when he got them knocked out again.”
In hockey, you have guys who are characters, and then you have the character guys, and former Kings defenseman and team captain Mattias Norstrom definitely fell in the latter category.
“The Europeans, some get a bad rap,” Demers noted. “When they first came over here, they had a real bad rap. Things have changed a lot.”
“[Mattias Norstrom]…what a character guy he is,” Demers added. “Our game has characters and character guys. He had so much character. You put him right there with Dave Taylor and Marcel [Dionne].”
Mathieu Schneider was another solid offensive defenseman with the Kings. His character was solid, too.
“Mathieu Schneider called me in May ,” said Demers. “He asked if was going back to Rhode Island. I said not until July. But then he said, ‘I’m going [now]. I’ve got a plane.’”
“He chartered a plane, and asked if Marilyn and I would like to fly back to Rhode Island for a week—that’s where we’re from,” added Demers. “So, the next day, we went right over to [Los Angeles International Airport], and got on this small plane. There were nine passengers. He had his wife, a couple of kids, the nanny, Marilyn and I. Gourmet food, and we flew right into Providence.”
“He called me a couple of days before the plane was leaving and asked what we wanted to eat on the way back…prime rib, shrimp, It was pretty generous of him to do that, and we had a great time visiting in Rhode Island. He’s a classy guy and had a great career.”
Another class act was Laperriere.
“We spent a lot of time together,” said Demers. “He got banged up a lot. Tough guy. Very, very personable type of guy, a guy you could sit down with and talk about anything. A really good, solid guy you could call your friend, and if you needed something.”
“I’d call Lappy a Pat Quinn kind of guy,” added Demers. “If I was in trouble, I know Pat Quinn, right now, he’d get on a plane and come down here to help me. Lappy is the same kind of guy. Comes to play every night, tried to get the guys going. You don’t have to be a superstar to make an impact in this league, that’s for sure.”
Although Tiger Williams was certainly a character, he was a character guy, too.
“He got into a fight one night, and he got thrown out of the game,” Demers recalled. “We used to have beer in the locker room after the game. They’ve stopped that now, but we had beer for the coaches, and there would be a case of beer in the locker room for the stick boy to sort out.”
“Tiger came into the locker room halfway through the third period,” Demers added. “The beer was there and the television was on. He took the case of beer and threw it at the TV. It stuck in the TV and stayed there. The TV didn’t work anymore, and no one touched it, even at the end of the game.”
Although he was fiery and emotional, and sometimes let his emotions boil over, he was a team guy all the way.
“There’s a guy who was a real foxhole kind of guy,” Demers stressed. “If you’re going to be in a fox hole, you hope Tiger is next to you. Long after he was gone from the Kings, he walked into the training room one night in Vancouver. He said, ‘if any of you guys give Pete any trouble, I’m going to be looking for you.’”
“He was an intense guy, but he was gentle to us [off the ice],” Demers added. “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
Starting in the 2001-02 season, the Kings were hit by some of the worst luck one can imagine, with players falling to injury left and right. Some would miss entire seasons. By the time the 2005-06 season was completed, the Kings had racked up 1,742 man-games lost to injury during that span, including two seasons when they set unofficial records for man-games lost to injury.
Demers was right in the middle of all that, and in the next story in this series, to be published on July 6, 2011, he shares his thoughts on those injury-laden seasons, along with information on many of the injuries suffered, including details that were not well-known at the time.
- 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
- Los Angeles Kings Retired Head Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Is A King For Life
- 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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