Honored In Obscurity: Los Angeles Kings Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers

FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: The Los Angeles Kings have more than twenty people—players, coaches, general managers and broadcasters—who have gained entry to the hallowed halls of the Hockey Hall of Fame. There are also two other members of the Kings family who have been so honored, including former head athletic trainer Pete Demers. But because of how they are recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame, Demers has been honored in almost complete obscurity, as have fellow athletic trainer and equipment manager honorees. In the final installment of this series on Demers’ career, Frozen Royalty looks at the honor, and what Demers is doing to ensure that future athletic trainers and equipment managers will get to enjoy that bit of the spotlight they deserve.

Los Angeles Kings retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers, circa 2003.
Photo: Demers Family Collection
LOS ANGELES — Fifteen players who have worn the jersey of the Los Angeles Kings have been inducted into the hallowed halls of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Three people inducted in the Builders category also spent time with the Kings organization, and one former head coach, Red Kelly, was inducted as a player, for a total of 19 people affiliated with the Kings who have become honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In addition, former Kings broadcaster John Kenneth “Jiggs” McDonald, the team’s original play-by-play announcer, and the legendary “Voice of the Kings,” long-time television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller, are media honorees.

But hardly anyone knows that the Kings have two additional people from their family who have earned a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

One is Norm Mackie, who served as the head athletic trainer from their inaugural 1967-68 season through 1971-72.

The other is retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers, who spent 37 years in the Kings organization, his first three with their American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield before he joined the big club in 1972.

Indeed, like the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the Professional Hockey Broadcasters Association, who each honor one of their own annually, Mackie and Demers were honored by the Professional Hockey Trainers Society (PHATS)—Mackie in 1997, and Demers in 2007.

Both have plaques on the PHATS/SPHEM (Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers) Wall of Honor in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Demers is the eighth athletic trainer to be so honored since the inception of the award in 1995.

Like the media honorees, athletic trainer honorees are not considered to be honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, unlike the players, builders and officials who have been inducted. Nevertheless, they are, for all intents and purposes, “in.”

Like all hockey trainers, Demers was accustomed to being behind the scenes, not in the forefront or the limelight. As such, the honor took a bit of getting used to.

“We [athletic trainers] are modest people,” he said. “The glory wore off long ago, for all of us. We’re so happy just to be able to walk through that door every morning. You have no idea what that means to us, and what it still means to me. To be able to be involved for as long as I was in professional hockey is—nothing else matters.”

“Imagine how much we love our jobs and how much fun it is,” he added. “With all these sacrifices you have to make, and you still keep coming back for more. It’s all about pride.”

“People tell us all the time, ‘hey you gave me a stick when I was a little kid.’ They’ve got their kid with them now, ‘my boy has it in his room.’ What other job has this to offer?”

For Demers, it was not just the countless hours he spent treating injuries or handling equipment that got him into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In fact, his work on behalf of his fellow trainers was a key factor as well.

Indeed, it was not all that long ago when National Hockey League athletic trainers faced financial insecurity upon retirement. But that changed, thanks to Demers.

“I did quite a bit of work on the trainer’s benefits package,” said Demers. “I was the president of [PHATS] for ten years. After that, I was past president, before that, I was vice president. During that time, I was, more or less, the pension liaison between the league, the trainers and the trainers’ attorney.”

“Nothing gets done quickly in the NHL,” added Demers. “I probably wrote twenty letters to various people at the league level, and had countless meetings with league officials, mainly, Brian Burke [now the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs] and [NHL Deputy Commissioner] Bill Daly, and [NHL Senior Vice President, Hockey Operations] Jim Gregory also helped us quite a bit. The point I’m getting at is that it was a tremendously slow process.”

“All we were trying to do was to get our pension in line with the other sports. In [Major League Baseball], you only have to work ten years, and you get a phenomenal pension, and the baseball trainers are part of the revenue sharing with apparel. I don’t know if they still are, but they were then.”

Demers did all this while he was still hard at work in the Kings training room, and, given the long hours and long road trips, the fact that he found time to work on this at the same time is a Herculean feat.

It was not until 2006, the year Demers left the Kings training room, when the trainers were finally able to reach an agreement with the league on a new pension plan.

“In 2006, the year I retired, they finally got it done, but they didn’t make it retroactive,” Demers noted. “They did make what they called the ‘Pete Demers Amendment,’ which allowed funds for ten or 15 guys who fall into a [particular] bracket.”

“There’s a very good pension now for someone who comes in and works 25 years that will allow them to retire with dignity,” Demers added. “The trainers assigned me that responsibility, and it was a great personal reward for me to see that get done. I’m real happy about that.”

Honored In Obscurity

As stated earlier, chances are very high that, until you began reading this story, you did not have any idea whatsoever that Demers is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Part of the reason for that is due to the nature of an athletic trainer’s work—always behind the scenes, flying well under the radar.

“No one really knows what we do,” said Demers. “But the game is about the players, not us. People don’t know what we do. They see you, they find out that you’re the trainer for the team, ‘oh, do you go out on the road? Do you know [Wayne] Gretzky?’”

Even those you might think should know that trainers and equipment managers are in the Hockey Hall of Fame are usually totally unaware.

“Even when [host] Ron MacLean showed my big fish [Demers, an avid fisherman, caught a 1,005-pound Atlantic Bluefin Tuna last September; details can be found here (scroll to the end of the story)] on Hockey Night in Canada, which was a great honor for me—we were in Nova Scotia,” said Demers. “Everyone was watching, and then Kelly Hrudey and Glenn Healy [both are former Kings goaltenders] said something about how I looked after them during [their] careers. Ron MacLean [then] said, ‘trainers are next.’”

“I wrote an e-mail to Ron MacLean a couple of days later and said, ‘we are in the [Hockey] Hall of Fame,” added Demers. “My plaque is in the hall of fame.’ I don’t think they really knew that we were in the Hockey Hall of Fame. We’re just not honored members, we’re in the same classification as the broadcasters and [writers].”

Not helping them gain notoriety is the fact that, unlike the media honorees, whose plaques are in the Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame, right there with the honored members, the trainers and equipment managers plaques have been relegated to a downstairs location that is well off the beaten path.

Demers’ plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Click on the above to view a larger image.
Photo courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame
“Our plaques are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and we’re in the same category as the [writers] and broadcasters are,” Demers noted. “Our goal now, the mountain we’re trying to climb now is to get a little more, not recognition, but visibility within the Hockey Hall of Fame.”

“We’re downstairs,” Demers lamented. “We have a little exhibit on a wall that’s in a pretty obscure place. It’s on an exit wall. The broadcasters [and writers] have their plaques up in the Great Hall. We’d like to have our plaques in the Great Hall, also.”

Despite being relegated to a lower floor, which, in this writer’s view is second class status, Demers insisted that the trainers are not whining.

“We’re not complaining,” he said. “We’re grateful for all that’s been done for us by the Hockey Hall of Fame. We’d just like to have a little more visibility.”

“We’re not asking to be honored members,” he added. “That’s for the players and the builders. It would be nice to have a trainer as an honored member, though. There’s only one broadcaster who’s an honored member, Foster Hewitt. But it would be nice to have the same visibility as the [writers] and broadcasters.”

Demers indicated that this issue has been ongoing for some time.

“I’ve been involved in all this dialogue with the Hockey Hall of Fame, ever since they built that exhibit,” said Demers. “We also worked very closely on a locker room exhibit. They took a model of the Montreal Canadiens locker room. We helped them do that.”

“We provide most of the stuff that goes into the Hockey Hall of Fame—it’s through the cooperation of the trainers,” added Demers. “The curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame for many years was Lefty Reid. He would call us or write us. ‘Marcel Dionne’s milestone game is coming up for a certain amount of goals, or whatever. We’d like to have that stick.’”

“Then, the night would come, and we’d get that stick right away and send it to the Hall. I’m sure that stuff’s still going on.”

The second class status is not just within the walls of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Indeed, if you look on the home page of their web site to find the trainer and equipment manager honorees, no link to that information is available.

Indeed, if you look under “honored members,” as you might expect, there are links to pages where you can find information about the players who have been inducted, along with those inducted under the Builders and Referee/Linesmen categories.

Media honorees, even though they are not considered to be honored members, are also found on this page, yet the trainer and equipment manager honorees have been omitted.

Instead, one has to look under the “Exhibit Tour” heading and click on “NHL Zone” before you can find information about the PHATS/SPHEM Wall of Honor, along with a link to the page listing the trainer and equipment manager honorees and providing further details.

Second class status? Nope. From the looks of things at the Hockey Hall of Fame, not to mention their web site, the trainers and equipment managers do not even rate that high.

Before a recent re-design of the Hockey Hall of Fame web site, the information on the honored trainers and equipment managers was buried so deep, mining equipment, perhaps even explosives, would have been needed to find it. Yet, despite the improvements, those who are unaware that trainers and equipment managers are so honored are still likely to remain so after looking at the Hockey Hall of Fame’s web site.

“We have a great relationship with the Hockey Hall of Fame,” said Demers. “We’re very grateful for what they’ve done for us, but we’d like to take that to the next level by getting our plaques upstairs with the broadcasters and [writers], and we’d like to have a little more visibility on the web site so that you don’t have to be a computer scientist to find it.”

Traditions Sometimes Serve As A Road Block To Needed Change

To be sure, the Hockey Hall of Fame needs to do more than make some minor adjustments to their web site. Indeed, a significant mindset change is needed. Standing in the way of that are the Hockey Hall of Fame’s history and traditions, which includes protection of their honored members and their lofty status, which, to a large degree, is understandable.

“The Hockey Hall of Fame makes it very, very clear that the trainer and equipment manager honorees are selected by the trainers [and equipment managers],” Demers stressed.

Their history and traditions meant a slow acceptance of the trainers and equipment managers into the fold. To illustrate, the first trainer to be honored was Ross Wilson of the Detroit Red Wings in 1995. But the first trainer honoree to be invited to the Hockey Hall of Fame during the annual Induction Ceremony was Demers in 2007.

“That was a big step forward, to bring our inductee in,” said Demers. “They put the [television] camera on our inductee. They just say his name, and that he was selected by the trainers. But we’re just trying to get a little more visibility and recognition on induction night.”

“The [Hockey Hall of Fame has] been unbelievable for us,” added Demers. “They put us up and recognize our inductee, so that’s good.”

Demers emphasized that the trainers are not ungrateful.

The PHATS/SPHEM Wall of Fame.
Click on the above to view a larger image.
Photo courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame
“We asked to get our plaques moved, we asked for a ring, we asked for jackets, and we asked for our honoree to be brought to Toronto,” Demers noted. “They didn’t give us the jackets, the trainers give their inductee a ring. They only thing they bit on was bringing our inductee to Toronto, so we asked for four things, and we got one. That was progress. We’re grateful for that. We’re proud to have our inductee there. It’s just that we’d like to tune that up a little bit.”

“We’ve been real careful to protect our reputations, or our modesty, and not make a lot of waves on this,” Demers added. “We’re not complainers. We want to go about this like we did the pension. We didn’t go to Sports Illustrated with our pension [issues]. If they had compared our pension to the pensions in other sports, at the time, it would’ve gone in every paper. It was ridiculous. But we were patient. We worked real hard, and personal. I call it diplomatic persistence. We’re not going to go away, so work with us.”

“Then, it’s all about what makes sense at the induction ceremony. If you can’t take another thirty seconds to show a couple of slides of a guy stoning a skate, or a guy running on the ice, taking care of a player…It’s not like we’re trying to get into a shoving match with anybody. We’d just like to be up on that level with the writers and broadcasters.”

Demers explained that because of the nature of an athletic trainers’ work, waiting patiently is not easy.

“These requests, like for our benefits package, and for enhancement of the Hockey Hall of Fame issue, are real difficult things for us to do,” he said. “We’re not negotiators, and it’s difficult not to go right away and ask, because, on the other end of the spectrum, we respond immediately, all the time, to requests.”

“A guy will call me and say that his wife is sick, or his kid,” he added. “A player’s hurt, or a coach. We respond immediately to all these things that people ask of us, so it’s hard not to have the hair trigger. Our training is immediate. We’re first responders. We don’t hesitate when things are asked of us. We react on them immediately, so it’s hard for us to be patient.”

The trainers and equipment managers might be able to help themselves a bit.

“There’s an adjustment that we have to make,” Demers stressed. “I don’t think it’s going to lose any dignity for our association, but we’re called PHATS, the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society, and the equipment managers are called SPHEM, the Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers. That might hurt us, as far as the Hockey Hall of Fame issue is concerned, because we get funneled into an area—they’re PHATS, they’re SPHEM. They’re not trainers and equipment managers. [Look at] the media. They’re broadcasters and [writers].”

“We need a heading on their web site that doesn’t say PHATS and SPHEM,” Demers added. “It should say ‘trainers and equipment managers.’”

Some might think Demers and the trainers are whining about nothing, but they could not be farther off-base. After all, the game would come to a screeching halt without the athletic trainers.

“Our names are on the Stanley Cup,” Demers said of his fellow athletic trainers. “We’re not part-timers. This is what we do. As [Buffalo Sabres color commentator and former Hockey Night In Canada broadcaster] Harry Neale said, ‘the trainers are the glue that holds the teams together.’”

An example of that is, earlier in his career, Demers used to handle the players’ laundry, taking the jerseys after games at the Forum in Inglewood, California, to a cleaners on South San Pedro Street in South Los Angeles at 1:00 AM after making nine trips up and down the stairs at the Culver Ice Arena with heavy bags of gear slung over both shoulders.

Demers and his wife, Marilyn, also darned socks for the players for many years.

Makes you wonder what athletic trainers did not do back in the day.

Demers pointed out that what the athletic trainers are asking for is about fairness, not special treatment.

“Every night, you hear ‘hall of famer this guy, or hall of famer that guy’ on every broadcast,” said Demers. “Like I said, we’re not in competition with anybody, but people don’t know. As well-versed as the Hockey Night in Canada guys are, they didn’t really know we were there. That’s what makes it a little bit frustrating for us, because we do put our heart and soul into it, and there’s not one guy in our profession who doesn’t. He would be gone in a year. Hopefully, we can make some head way.”

“It’s embarrassing for us, but I’m convinced it’s going to happen, and I’m very patient, because I have my training in patience because of [his work on the] pension,” added Demers. “Sooner or later, we’re going to be able to go on the Hockey Hall of Fame web site, scroll down, and, right next to broadcasters, they’re going to have the trainers and equipment managers.”

“The Hockey Hall of Fame thing is a big thing, not only for myself, but for—that’s the pinnacle award. You dedicate your whole life to the game to get to that level, but then it’s not to the fullest, is discouraging.”

Even more important than addressing the obvious inequality is the need to educate.

“[Being an athletic trainer is] a skill and a profession that requires extensive training,” Demers stressed. “You don’t just walk in the door and they say, ‘OK, here, take care of Wayne Gretzky.’”

“Our goal is to educate so that we can have visibility of our profession, to have people know that we’re not just guys who sling jock straps around.”

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