English translation

English translation McGill University

| Skip to search Skip to navigation Skip to page content

User Tools (skip):

Sign in | Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Sister Sites: McGill website | myMcGill

McGill News
ALUMNI QUARTERLY - winter 2008
McGill News cover

| Help
Page Options (skip): Larger
Is There a Doctor in the Stadium?

When a professional athlete sustains an injury in Montreal, it's a safe bet that he'll be treated by a McGill doctor. While sports medicine usually involves getting players back on their feet after a cartilage is torn or a joint repaired, it can sometimes mean saving an athlete's life.


In a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this year, Philadelphia defenceman Chris Therien prepared to fire at the Montreal net. Canadiens forward Trent McCleary crouched down to block the puck.

Therien unleashed a booming shot which struck McCleary in the throat. He collapsed, rose up to skate towards the dressing room, then fell once again, gasping for air. The puck had crushed his larynx. He couldn't breathe.

McGill medical professors David Mulder, MSc'65, and Vincent Lacroix, BSc'86, MDCM'90, were on duty for the game as the Canadiens'official team physicians. They sped to McCleary's side. Another McGill medical professor, surgeon David Fleiszer, BSc'69, MDCM'73, MSc'79, happened to be watching the game in the stands, and he rushed down to offer help.

As Mulder and Fleiszer worked on McCleary, Lacroix called the Montreal General Hospital to ensure that an operating room would be ready for McCleary's arrival. Mulder and Fleiszer accompanied him on the five-minute ambulance ride, doing what they could to help the struggling player breathe. Once at the General, Mulder performed an emergency tracheotomy, inserting a tube through a hole cut at the base of McCleary's throat to reinflate his right lung. McCleary, probably the only patient to enter the operating room with skates on, could breathe again. He would live.

Two other McGill professors, otolaryngologists Françoise Chagnon, MDCM'81, and Nader Sadeghi, MDCM'91, repaired McCleary's fractured larynx two days later.

At a press conference following McCleary's ordeal, Mulder said the player was lucky. "It was as close to death as I think you could come - it was a matter of seconds."


Mulder heads a team of McGill professors, including Lacroix, orthopedic surgeon Eric Lenczner and eye specialist John Little, MDCM'61, that looks after the health needs of the Canadiens. The Montreal Expos' team surgeon is Larry Coughlin, BSc'69, MDCM'73, while sports medicine expert Alan Vernec, MDCM'85, tends to the needs of the Montreal Impact soccer squad. Lacroix and ER specialist Scott Delaney, both from the McGill Sports Medicine Clinic, serve as team physicians for the Montreal Alouettes.

Mulder began looking after hockey players as a surgical resident in the early 1960s when he was recruited by Doug Kinnear, BSc'48, MDCM'52. Kinnear, the acknowledged dean of sports team doctors, was chief physician for the Canadiens from 1962 until he handed over the job to Mulder last fall. The McGill veteran was fêted during the 1999 NHL all-star celebrations by his counterparts from other hockey teams.

The NHL requires at least two doctors to be present at every game, ready to look after the medical needs of both the home and visiting teams. Mulder and his colleagues split the duties during the season. "You have to be a sports nut to do this," says Mulder. "It does eat up a lot of time."

"People think it's easy going," says Lacroix of the way the work of team physicians is perceived. "It's not. We're ready for anything during a game. You see a big hit and right away, you're assessing the chances for injury. We're not drinking beer with our feet up.You relax once the game is over."

"We have an outstanding relationship with the Montreal General and McGill," says Mulder. "There probably isn't another hockey team out there that has such a close relationship with a teaching hospital and a university." Those links were established back in the days when the Montreal General was located across the street from the old Forum and medical students saw games for free in return for supplying medical care to the players.

The connection between McGill and the Canadiens extends to the team's training camp each fall, when about 70 players turn up at McGill's Seagram Sport Science Centre to have physical education professor David Montgomery run them through their paces.

The players take part in a battery of physiological tests that measure upper body strength, power, flexibility and aerobic fitness. "We identify their strengths and weaknesses," says Montgomery, so that Canadiens coaches and trainers know what individual players need to concentrate on in terms of exercise and training.


"Twenty years ago, the players wouldn't arrive here in the top shape we see them in today," says Montgomery. "They used to use training camp to get into shape. But there are a lot of dollars at stake now. You don't want to look bad right off the bat." Montgomery says the testing can be quite competitive - certain players show up at training camp knowing they have to make a good impression if they want to crack the team's NHL roster.

"There's also a lot of pride at stake," says Montgomery. The players are ranked in each category. "[Former Canadien] Vincent Damphousse was always the highest in aerobic fitness. His goal was always to be number one."

Canadiens players also undergo roughly 100 treatments each year in the centre's hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which helps speed the healing process by increasing tissue oxygenation.

Kinnear says team doctors establish close relationships with the players over the years. "You get to know their various idiosyncrasies. They get to trust your judgement. I love the game and I like the people in it. Hockey players are a good crowd."

"They're very good patients, by and large. They work hard on their rehabilitation," says Mulder. "They generally do everything they can to get back on the ice as soon as they can."

"People think we're pressured by management to get players back into action as soon as we can," adds Kinnear. "But the vast majority of coaches are ex-players. They remember being injured themselves. They don't want to risk anybody's career."

Lacroix says players themselves can be too anxious to get back into action following an injury. "Especially with concussions. We're doing cutting-edge research at McGill on concussions, so we know how serious these injuries can be. But if a player is feeling okay, he doesn't always understand it when you tell him to wait another week."

"They've been at this for quite a while," says Kinnear of pro hockey players, most of whom have been developing their skills since early childhood. "They're almost inured to pain in their development. I have great admiration for their pain thresholds."

When asked what change he would make to the NHL rule book if given the opportunity, Kinnear doesn't hesitate. "I would bar cross-checking (players) from behind into the boards. That scares doctors silly. There's always a chance of someone breaking his neck."

"I'm concerned about all the stick work, the two-handed slashes," says Mulder. "I'd like to see that eliminated."

Lacroix, a former assistant coach of the University's men's basketball team, was the first McGill doctor to earn specialized training as an Ed Ricard sports medicine fellow -named for the late Ricard, an Imasco executive with a passion for sports. Apart from medical training, Lacroix also learned about biomechanics and physical fitness principles from physical education professors like Montgomery and Hélène Perrault.

It's training Lacroix thinks more doctors should have - not just to treat elite athletes, but also to be able to offer good advice about exercise to a sports-minded kid suffering from asthma or to a senior who wants to get back into shape.

At the Sports Medicine Clinic, Lacroix and his colleagues take care of almost 600 McGill varsity athletes, as well as members of the general public who sustain injuries "as weekend warriors in garage leagues."

Asked to compare pro football and hockey players, Lacroix says, "With football, there's more of a sense that players are part of the team. They aren't quite as individualistic. If you're a wide receiver, you need the quarterback to throw a good pass and you need the offensive linesmen to block if you're going to be able to do your job. In hockey, you see a guy like Jaromir Jagr change the outcome of a game pretty much all by himself."

Kinnear says it's no mystery why time-strapped doctors sign on to work with pro sports teams. "What kid wouldn't give up his right arm to be on a first-name basis with the Montreal Canadiens?"

view sidebar content | back to top of page