Flyers’ trainer: ‘Shame on us’ if players aren’t prepared

Flyers (from left) Scott Hartnell, Matt Read, Danny Briere, and Claude Giroux. "I cannot wait to return," Giroux said. AP

With the news of a tentative settlement between the NHL and its Players Association coming in the wee hours of Sunday morning, today it’s back to work for the Flyers’ Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Coach—and member of our Sports Doc panel—Jim McCrossin, ATC.

But the truth is, McCrossin never really stopped working. He’s stayed in touch with players and other team personnel as much as possible in anticipation of this day.

“Myself, the medical staff—if we aren’t prepared, shame on us,” said McCrossin. “And that’s the same for the players. Even if you’re in a lockout mode, it’s in the back of your mind that we’re going to come back. The season will start at some point, and you need to stay in reasonably good shape.”

Like most NHL teams, the Flyers have a number of players who’ve been playing over in Europe during the lockout, so it’s reasonable to expect those players to be in shape when they return this week. Others stayed here in the Philadelphia area with their families, but worked out on their own at local rinks or gyms.

Yet McCrossin knows there’s a difference between being in shape and being in hockey shape. He anticipates his biggest challenge will be preparing the players for the NHL season in much less time than he’s accustomed to having. Players aren’t expected to report until this coming Saturday; yet reports indicate the season could start as soon as January 19.

“It’s going to be get up and go,” admitted McCrossin. “This season is going to be a sprint. Whether it’s a 48- or 50-game season, we’ll be playing four games a week, which means every other night.” A typical 82-game season spans 27 calendar weeks, so teams play just about three games per week, on average, throughout the season.

With limited rest time between games, McCrossin’s job during a very limited training camp will be assessing each Flyer’s readiness for the season and communicating any concerns to the coaching staff. “I’m fortunate working with Lavy (head coach Peter Laviolette)—he understands. If a player needs a day off from practice to heal, Lavy understands the importance of giving them that chance,” he explained.

The Flyers experienced limited roster turnover during the off-season, but this will be McCrossin’s first chance to spend time with new Flyers like Luke Schenn. Ruslan Fedotenko, who started his career with the organization before moving on to play in Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and New York, returns to the orange-and-black this season.

“Ruslan and I have stayed friends, and we’ve spoken throughout the years,” said McCrossin. “So I’m aware of any injuries he’s had. When we signed him back to the Flyers, he came in during the summertime before the lockout and I had the chance to examine him. He’s always been a guy who’s kept in great shape.”

There’s no time to waste, and today McCrossin will accompany defenseman Andrej Meszaros to a doctor’s appointment. Meszaros tore his right Achilles tendon during off-season training, and has spent the past several months rehabbing from surgery. “I’ve been joking with Andrej that thanks to this lockout, he may be the first professional athlete to come back from an Achilles tendon rupture and not miss a game,” laughed McCrossin. “We joke about it, but that’s a terrible injury and he’s been working hard to make it back. I give him all the credit.”

Every team in the NHL is loaded with talent, and any number of squads could take home the Stanley Cup later this year. McCrossin believes two main factors will determine the 2013 season.

“Health and depth will win this thing,” he claimed. “We’ve got the depth—a great mix of young legs and veteran leadership on the Flyers. My job is to keep them healthy.”

- Rob Senior