UTURNS: Unsung Heroes

By Randy Uens



April 22, 2021

There were a number of events this week that reminded me how important a role trainers, equipment managers and athletic therapists play within a team. Taping up injured body parts, sharpening skates, cleaning laundry and filling the water bottles is all part of the job. Every task, no matter how large or small, is important to the success of a team. 

All of this is true but the relationship is far greater than that. A great trainer can be the heart and soul of a team. A great equipment manager can be the catalyst that turns around an entire  season. A great athletic therapist can inspire and encourage athletes to go beyond their limits to achieve amazing goals. 

All of these sentiments were on full display this past week when Pittsburgh Penguins trainer Jon Taglianetti was given a game puck for his “assist” on a Sidney Crosby goal against the Philadelphia Flyers. 

Crosby had given his stick to his defenceman while the pair were defending a Philadelphia surge in the Penguins defensive zone and the defenceman was left with a broken stick. As the Penguins gained control of the puck , Taglianetti quickly grabbed one of Crosby’s backup sticks and leaned over the bench to pass the stick off to a swooping Crosby who was racing to join the offensive rush. 

All hockey people will tell you the most dangerous person on the rush is the trailer. Crosby proved that point by taking his new found lumber and slamming in a loose puck from a rebound created from the primary rush. If Crosby had been delayed or had been forced to change it is unlikely the goal would have occurred. Taglianetti’ s quick thinking assisted with that goal. 

Sidney Crosby Goal From The Bench

 Sure the act was impressive and demonstrated Taglianetti was on top of the situation and completely engaged. For me it was the reaction of the team that struck me most. Players were jumping around like it was a Stanley Cup winning goal and completely mugged Taglianetti  after the goal. That event was a huge team building event. Hockey seasons are always tough.You have highs and lows and this season has had its shares of lows for the players. 

An event like this can raise the spirits of the team and make them realize that everyone is critical to the success of the team and everyone on the team needs to be engaged and committed to achieve something great. 

At the end of this season for the Wellington Dukes a Twitter shout out went to Leah Tofflemire, our athletic therapist, from the family of our captain Ben Addison. Ben was our overage captain who has just committed to continue his  hockey and academic career at Oswego State in  the NCAA. 

Once again this highlighted the importance of our staff. Leah has been leading the charge for us managing our Covid protocols while keeping the players moving through this difficult season. She does her job with pride and is one of the best around at her vocation. Her skills as an athletic trainer are unparalleled but her contributions are not limited to fixing strained muscles and caring for broken bones .She is a psychologist, a cheerleader, a confidante and a friend to our players and they truly appreciate her for it. 

While they may have different jobs and different approaches to how they deal with our players, other members of our Dukes staff have similarly strong influences on our players albeit through different approaches. Bob Lavender and Kevin Dolson both have a completely different demeanour than Leah but their influence on the players is unmistakable. Praise when it’s needed  and wake up calls when it’s called for. Two valued components of our team. 

In the title you may look at Joey Lavender as just the waterboy or dressing room attendant for the Wellington Dukes. For our Dukes team, Joey is the Boss. Joey is the heart and soul of our team. During the past three years we have had epic playoff runs. Every one  of our players wanted to win, not only for themselves and their new teammates, but for Joey. No one wanted to have to face the disappointment in Joey’s face when we lost a game. 

When we win, no one is happier than Joey. His post game celebration in the dressing room is something of legend now and something that I cannot give full justice to in this description. Safe to say it is live theatre that I never get tired of seeing. Joey takes over the dressing room and the team loves it. He truly is the heart and soul of the Wellington Dukes. 

Over the years I have been blessed by so many great trainers and athletic therapists in both hockey and lacrosse. They are selfless and generous with the right amount of saltiness to remind you that it’s their team and you are but a part of that unit. As a player you have to be sure to show respect and appreciate the job these individuals do to help you perform at your best game in and game out. They are the unsung heroes on every team. 

When the Belleville Macs were resurrected to play Senior A in 2003 we had a terrific  group that came together at the right time which led to a Championship banner in our inaugural season. Our manager Brian Clark, and our trainers Bruce MacDonald and Jeff McDonald.were all key parts of that successful season. The boys loved it when Clarkey lost his cool and looked like he was going to hurl his 150 pound frame into the melee at any given time. 

Bruce was a calming influence and never got too rattled.The boys loved having him around and he was our greatest cheerleader. We lost Bruce way too early in 20012. 

Jeff McDonald was as competitive as all of us and his will to win and selfless support of the club was valued by the entire team. Witty and resourceful, Jeff helped the team in so many ways. Jeff, although only a few years older than me, was my uncle.  Unfortunately Jeff passed away this past week due to a brain aneurysm at the age of 57. 

Heartfelt condolences to his daughter Hilary, wife Daphine and step son Guy. Although they have been living out west Jeff will be fondly remembered by the Belleville hockey community.  I will miss him greatly.