#OnFire – Blaze Medical Team

It takes more than you might think to put the team on the ice. Take a careful look at the bench on any match night and there you will spot two people just sitting on the back of the boards, chatting and watching the game. The only time you’ll really notice Nicola Sherlock, the team physio, or Matt Robbins, team doctor, is when they have to come onto the ice and help an injured player. Their role though, extends far beyond the sixty minutes of game time. In fact, it can start up to three hours before face off, as Nicky explains, “ I arrive at the rink at about 3 hours before the game, this gives me time to get everything ready before the boys arrival and have a cup of tea before the madness starts. I can see anything between three to ten players prior to a game, dependant on how physical the game was the night before and if we’re carrying any injuries. Treatments can be anything from massage and stretching to help warm up their muscles, taping of wrists, fingers to help and prevent injuries. When the players are in their pre-game meeting, I will normally make up the electrolyte drinks (which they take during the game to help with hydration and prevent salt lose) and make ice bags up for the game. We will then check we have everything we need to take over to the bench in our medical bag (this includes tape, painkillers, glucose tablets, gauze and steri strips).”
Matt has a slightly more relaxed start to the game. “I aim to get to the rink in time for warmup, unless there are any outstanding issues I need to sort out…say hello to the guys and staff, sign the gamesheet so the referee knows there is a doctor at the rink, grab a coffee and get round to the bench!”
It’s not as easy as it looks during a game either. “Contrary to popular opinion, we’re not just sat at the back of the bench chatting…we tend to be watching what’s going on behind the play, making sure guys have got up after hits, watching them as they come of the ice, looking for any issues, or any signs of concussion…I also keep an eye on the away bench for problems…so we rarely see the goals scored!” said Matt. “During the breaks we catch up on any issues from the period, and Nicky does running repairs on the guys. Obviously I sort out any problems during the game – maybe a temporary fix to get through to the end of a period – first priority is to look after the guys, but there is a drive to keep guys available to play!” Nicky added “It’s difficult to watch the flow of the game as we are watching hits, watching players as they come back to the bench and mostly trying to not get hit by flying pucks, sticks.”

After a game, treatment starts in earnest for any injured players. Nicky explained, “Ice bags are given out, some guys will have an Ice bath. We will treat any injuries that may have occurred during the game and set up a treatment plan. Players will also get massages after the game to help reduce muscle soreness the next day.” Matt has a similar schedule. “I catch up on any issues from the game, plan any follow-up for the start of the week, make sure the guys have any medications they need and know what they should be doing with their injuries, catch up with Chuck and update him on the state of the squad, who’s fit for training and who needs a modified programme to allow them to recover.”

Blaze play two games a weekend, and need medical support for both of them. For Nicky this means travelling the length of the country with the team, while Matt gets it slightly easier. She said, “I will normally get to the rink an hour before we are due to leave. I have a medical bag which I will pack all the essentials in which I may need for the game, as well as electrolyte drinks and protein for after the game. The routine when we get there is the same as any home game.” Due to an agreement across the league, Matt does not need to travel. “I save myself for special occasions like the Continental Cup or playoff weekend as the home team provides a doctor for game day, and we look after the away players in the same way we hope that the other teams look after our guys on the road!”

As well as game days, there are training sessions to attend during the week. Matt said, “I drop in to training at least once a week for coffee and a catch up with Nicky and Chuck – we discuss any ongoing issues, any further tests that need doing – also gives the guys a chance to discuss any health issues that may be bothering them. It’s much easier to look after them on match days if you know them a bit off-ice – makes it easier to spot when they’re ‘just not right’”. Nicky has a greater commitment. “I attend two training sessions a week, my colleague Monika does the other two. If any player is injured and not practicing, this is the time they will get treatment and run through any rehab programs. If there’s no one injury (a rare thing) I use this time to write medical notes up and order any medical supplies.”

And of course, there’s life outside hockey. Matt works at UHCW and said, “My colleagues are very good at accommodating my shift requests to fit around hockey, and are quite used to Canadians in Blaze jackets wandering into the department to see me in the week! I have an excellent back-up in Kim Gregory who picks up most of the home games I can’t get to.” Nicky is self-employed. “I’m fortunate that I have my own business, Elite therapy a physio clinic I set up with former Blaze player Joel Poirier eight years ago, so I can be flexible on hours and day. I normally will go straight from practice to work at the clinic. It makes my day very varied!”


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