Professional Sports

Athletic Trainer Vital in Keeping the Ducks on the Ice

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Professional Sports

Athletic Trainer Vital in Keeping the Ducks on the Ice

Among the valuable behind-the-scenes members of the Ducks organization is one guy who is only seen by fans when something bad has happened.

Joe Huff is in this third season as the Head Athletic Trainer for the Ducks, the guy who usually doesn’t make an appearance until somebody gets hurt. But that’s just fine for the unassuming Huff, who loves what he does just as much as when he started in this field two decades ago.

“Every day is different,” Huff says. “Every day there is a new problem you’re trying to solve, and I really enjoy that.”

Among Huff’s myriad responsibilities as Head Athletic Trainer is getting injured players back on the ice in a timely manner, or determining if their injuries require more serious and long-term attention.

“From the time of an injury, we evaluate, decide which direction we need to go with treatment, how quickly we can get them back out there,” Huff says. “It’s everything from a Band-Aid covering up a wound all the way down to a broken bone.”

And if an injury is more severe? “We pull them off and start the next process, which would be rehab and treatment. You see it all the way through to the end. We’ve got a great staff that we work with – assistant athletic trainer, massage therapist, physical therapists, strength coach and our physicians.”

“Every day is different,” Huff says. “Every day there is a new problem you’re trying to solve, and I really enjoy that.”

A typical gameday for Huff and his staff starts around 7 a.m., well before players arrive for the morning skate. “Obviously there is a lot of preparation and getting things ready, whether it’s water for practices and games, postgame ice bags, treatment, all that kind of stuff,” says Huff, who adds that downtime is usually filled by paperwork on player health statuses.

Players usually arrive between 8:15 and 8:30 for treatment and taping prior to the morning skate, then Huff or one of his staffers are on the bench during the skate. Players usually head home to rest around 11:30 and start trickling in around 4:00 for that night’s game.

“Then we start all over again with treatments, right into the warmup,” he says. “Everybody has got their own routine. Each player has intricacies that they like or don’t like, the way things feel. At this level, they’ve all had treatments before. So they have an idea of what has worked with the past, and you go off that and you go off your experience, reading off how they react to what you’re doing.”

Huff’s daily routine has been fairly consistent ever since he got into this business after graduating from Iowa State University in 1998 with an Exercise & Sports Science degree. He began his professional career with the amusingly named Macon Whoopee of the Central Hockey League, where he spent a season before becoming Head Athletic Trainer for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL. After six seasons in Des Moines, he moved to the ECHL, taking over the Head Trainer position with the Augusta Lynx. It was a town more known for its golf than its hockey since Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters every April.

“To be in the town all year round, it’s just a sleepy southern town,” Huff says, “but that week it just goes crazy.”

Huff’s time in Augusta was also his first experience with the Ducks organization, as Anaheim always had a handful of its prospects assigned to the Lynx. “I’ve been at three levels with this organization,” Huff says, “which is kind of cool.”

Indeed, his relationship with the Ducks in Augusta ultimately earned him a position with the Iowa Chops, which was Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in 2008-09, and allowed Huff to return to his home state. But as the Ducks’ AHL affiliation moved, so did Huff, from Des Moines to Syracuse, NY (2010-12) and finally to Norfolk, Virginia (2012-13).

“The best part of this is, watching guys progress – from being devastated that they can’t play all the way through coming back, scoring a goal, getting a point, playing their role. Helping them do that to the best of their ability is so rewarding.”

When the Head Athletic Trainer position opened up in Anaheim, Huff was brought on board, having already established a comfort level working with so many members of the organization from the players to the front office.

“It’s the same job, you just happen to do it in different cities,” says Huff who has two daughters, Macy and Marin, with wife Lisa. “Having an understanding family is a huge part of the deal, having that kind of support. It can be tough on the kids, but they’re resilient, and they’ve had some great life experiences that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

For Huff himself, the best career experiences are helping players work their way back through injuries with the help of “a great group of people who work together” on the Ducks staff.

“The best part of this is, watching guys progress – from being devastated that they can’t play all the way through coming back, scoring a goal, getting a point, playing their role. Helping them do that to the best of their ability is so rewarding,” Huff says.

A recent example can be found in the recovery of Ducks center Nate Thompson, who was out six months following shoulder surgery and worked diligently with Huff and others to return to the lineup earlier this month.

“That right there is the main reason you get into this, going all the way back to picking a major and taking classes,” Huff says. “That’s when you envision helping someone get back to performing at the best of their abilities, helping them do their job the way they did before – or even better if you can.

“It’s hard to hide a smile when you get to see a guy who is obviously happy, when he’s smiling because he’s taking warmups for the first time in six months. It’s the reason why any athletic trainer gets into the business.”

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