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August, 2014

OATA and NHL help “Stick it to Alzheimers”

For the 3rd year running OATA and CSMTA (Canadian Sport Massage Therapists Association) members teamed up for what is quite possibly, one of the premier charity events in Canada. In what has become a regular item on the OATA calendar, this unique and inspiring hockey tournament took place the first weekend in May.

This event was not open to the public. Only team members, their families, volunteers, and organizers had access. Given the nature of the tournament, this was wise. The event is organized by the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. Though essentially a senior’s residence, it has evolved into an internationally known centre for geriatric research. The University of Toronto medical school considers it a campus with doctors and researchers doing great work at this location. Closer to home, budding Doctors of Osteopathy have done outreach work here as part of their studies with seniors.

The concept is simple yet ingenious. Teams must raise at least $25,000 to enter the event. At the dinner event the evening before, teams get to select an NHL alumnus to be part of their team. Players span across quite a few decades - with more recent retirees such as Darcy Tucker; reaching all the way back to the era of Daryl Sittler. Alumni stayed with their teams getting dressed in the same locker room and generally giving others a sense of what it is like to interact with former professional hockey players.


What struck me as interesting was how regular they were, just like normal everyday people. Athletic Therapists do regularly rub shoulders with Olympic athletes, yet hockey in Canada has its own elevated mystique. Having been afforded the opportunity to speak informally with and even treat quite a few of them, the only thing that differentiated them from the others was their blue (rather than the red) accreditation, indicating they were an NHL alumnus. Only when you consider how many aspiring young adults and kids there are out there hoping for a professional birth, do you realize that notwithstanding their casual and relaxed interaction, they were the crème de la crème of hockey with talent 99% of us could only dream of.

As a novice skater (hailing from the southern hemisphere) I consider skating easy. Stopping and turning are the challenge! I guess that's what boards are for! But these folks clearly take it to the next level.

On a humorous note I also pondered how the alumni handled the leisurely even tedious pace of the games, and how this must have contrasted with the speed and intensity of the game in their heyday. Admittedly some were older people, but still….   More than once I mused at the marking time of the likes of Mark Napier and Dennis Maruk (both very speedy players in their prime) on the periphery til the puck finally emerged from some glacial exchange!

There was action off the ice. In the lobby there were periodic swarms of people like bees at a honeypot. If you had the patience to watch, a tolerant Wendell Clark might eventually emerge from the throng following a session of photographs and autograph giving. Once the majority of spectators and volunteers had done their “thing”, alumni could generally move around with relative ease. It was still a novelty for me circulating in the four rinks at Buckingham arena in Downsview Park, Toronto, and passing any number of famous personalities most people rarely come across except in the news. At one stage a long line-up formed for a more formal meet, greet and autograph session with Red Kelly and Bobby Baun, and later Johnny Bower. No, these older chaps did not play on this weekend. But they were honoured guests who kindly donated their time to sit at a table, chat with well-wishers and sign autographs.

There was a formal ceremony on ice when all alumni gathered for Oh Canada and a few words of thanks from the various dignitaries. It was truly a who’s who of North American Hockey corralled in one area. Even a non-player such as I could appreciate this. Upwards of NHL 25 alumni were gathered on ice. On the carpet spanning the entrance was a bevy of dignitaries, including Walter Gretzky and the venerable Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe. This was truly a continental representation since many participants do not live in the Golden Horseshoe area and were brought in for the occasion.

Our task was almost exclusively to provide therapy and massage. On ice care was provided by one of the private emergency care agencies.  Other than ice packs and a few typical kit supplies, we were a completely manual operation. There were few injuries. Most were variations of “weekend warrioritis”. Invariably treatments tended towards pre and inter event massage. The presence of a chiropractor (Dr. Jody Shapiro) and an Osteopath in our team (Grant Woods) added to our versatility. We did have assistance from an unlikely source. A player lying prone was having his shoulders kneaded by one of the therapy crew. An elderly gentleman and his entourage approached and he quietly nudged the therapist to the side and proceeded to continue with the kneading. The player, sensing a change in tempo shifted his head and squinted open one eye. That was nearly his undoing – he almost fell off the table! Staring down grinning ear to ear was a beaming Gordie Howe!

Yes, the spirit of sport was present across the board and across the generations!

Many thanks to all the therapists who volunteered their time and expertise.

Lauren Tannenabum CAT(C), Grant Woods DO CAT(C), Joanne Glassford RMT SMT(CC), Amaya Iribarren RMT SMT(CC), Osvoldo Bolanos Medina RMT SMT(CC), Todd Bennett RMT SMT(CC), Dr. Jody Shapiro DC, Jonathan Maister CAT(C) SMT(C)

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