Flyers' trainer discusses on-ice emergencies

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, center, leaves the ice with help from Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin, left, and R.J. Umberger, right, after being hit in the face by a puck during the first period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 11, 2008. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Last Saturday, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby was hit in the face with a teammate’s slapshot. Crosby was able to leave the ice under his own power, but sustained a broken jaw on the play and would undergo several hours of surgery to repair the damage.

We thought we’d seen the big injury of the sports weekend—until the next afternoon, when Kevin Ware’s broken leg became the big story of this year’s March Madness tournament.

The good news is that both Crosby and Ware are on the road to recovery, thanks in large part to the medical professionals who got to the athletes and provided expert care. Jim McCrossin, Sports Doc panelist and athletic trainer/strength and conditioning coach for the Flyers, shared some thoughts and recollections of dealing with serious injuries on the ice.

McCrossin’s name and face are familiar to Philadelphia fans—he’s the first guy on the ice after an injury in a Flyers game. Usually, he’s checking a cut from a high stick or maybe evaluating a player after a hard hit. But on occasion, the situation can be a pressing emergency.

“Those are the times,” says McCrossin, “when you realize why you’ve spent all those years learning. All that experience comes to the forefront to help you do whatever it takes to help the individual in question.”

Mention in-game injuries to a Flyers fan and they’ll recall Eric Lindros, Jeremy Roenick or Keith Primeau. But it was another instance that came first to McCrossin’s mind. “We had a player rupture an artery in his buttock—he was bleeding internally,” he recalls. “Now people don’t see the blood, so it’s different. But it’s an emergency, and you need that solid medical team on hand.”

In a situation like Crosby’s, where the player loses a tooth or multiple teeth, McCrossin’s focus is on initial assessment more than particulars. “We’re not dentists, we’re not neurologists,” he said of certified athletic trainers in general. “But we are a little bit of everything. We need to make that initial assessment—Sidney and someone like Ian Laperriere, they came off the ice on their own—but sometimes they don’t come off the ice. That’s when your hand goes up and you call for assistance.”

One occurrence when the player didn’t come off the ice—or wasn’t going to come off the ice—happened a few years ago at Madison Square Garden. “Todd Fedoruk was in a fight and got hit with a punch—Todd’s hands went up, and that’s a neurological sign that he’s got brain trauma,” says McCrossin. “I could hear his gasping—that was him nearly swallowing his mouthguard.”

So as McCrossin is stabilizing Fedoruk’s head, he’s also performing a finger sweep to get the mouthguard up and out of Fedoruk’s mouth. Meanwhile, the Rangers’ trainer has joined McCrossin on the ice as the call for a spine board is made to take Fedoruk off the ice. “At that moment, Todd wakes up,” recalls McCrossin. “Now he’s demanding to get up, saying he’s not going to leave the ice [on the spine board.] But you have to use your judgment. If you try to be a hero, and let him off that spine board and he does have a neck injury… well, that’s just dumb.”

Other incidents, such as a Flyers game years ago when a shot struck Montreal’s Trent McCleary in the throat—requiring an emergency tracheotomy—may not stick with fans the way something as gruesome as Ware’s injury does. Just last year, a Flyers player took a deflection to the throat. “He’s panicking, and by the time I can get to the end of the bench he’s halfway up the tunnel [to the locker room.] That gave me a second to signal [Boston Bruins trainer] Don DelNegro that I needed some help. By the time I reached the locker room, the Bruins’ doctors were already there.”

McCrossin refers to the medical staffs of all 30 NHL organizations as “a team within the teams.” He has close friendships with several team trainers and an understanding exists between these professionals to work in tandem in the case of a serious injury to a player from either side. “I always tell the visiting team that if someone gets a severe cut during the game, we’ll take them into the Flyers’ locker room,” he says. “Our locker room’s not any better, we’re just more equipped at our home arena.” 

“It’s not the Flyers against the Bruins, in terms of medical staffs,” McCrossin concludes. “These are all NHL players, we take care of them just like we would any of our own. There are no rivalries or competition between medical staffs. It’s just a sport—the value of human life is so much more than winning or losing.”


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