Pandemic presents trainers with new challenges

Rock trainer Lacey Rigg — one of two female head trainers in the NOJHL — assists Timmins blue-liner Evan Beaudry off the ice during a game at the McIntyre Arena during the 2019-20 campaign. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made life a little more challenging for trainers across the league this season. FILE PHOTO/THE DAILY PRESS

Fans who attend hockey games — at any level — are used to seeing trainers venture out onto the ice to provide assistance to injured players.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
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While waiting for that call to action, they can often be seen on the bench opening one of the doors to help facilitate line changes.

Even in a pre-COVID-19 world, however, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Just ask Lacey Rigg, one of two full-time female trainers in the NOJHL (Kirkland Lake Gold Miners Carla Vine is the other), who is entering her third season with the Timmins Rock.

“Typically, trainers do everything from equipment repairs, to equipment ordering, stocking the equipment, whether it is tape, making sure the players have their sticks, sewing the name bars on the jerseys, items like that,” she said.

“Also, we take care of the (dressing) room. We make sure it is clean and ready to go for game days and practices.

“Prior to COVID-19, they always had water and snacks available during game days. Obviously, that has changed with COVID-19 rules.

“Also, laundry. On average Junior ‘A’ trainers probably do 1,600 loads of laundry a year.”

So, long after the players and members of the coaching staff have left the arena, trainers are still hard at work.

“Prior to COVID-19, one post-game laundry duty would involve six loads,” Rigg said.

“We are fortunate in that we have two washers and two driers located in our facility. It is not too bad, because we have to hang all of our jerseys after games, just so they don’t get wrecked by the dryer.”

Rigg’s love of hockey dates back to when she was “about four years old” and began playing the sport.

While she has continued to play goal, over the years she also became involved as a trainer, working at the Peewee and Bantam levels.

Her involvement with the Rock began, however, as a member of the team’s board of directors in 2015.

“Our trainer at the time couldn’t attend a weekend road game and they asked me if I would be able to fill in,” Rigg said.

“I already had all of my certifications, so it was kind of an easy transition.

“It was only supposed to be that one weekend, but I have not left.

“I have always been very close with the team and I know the players very well. I have had billets before.”

As one might expect, the job description for a trainer in Junior ‘A’ hockey is much different than most levels of minor hockey.

“In minor hockey, you are basically taking care of them while they are on the ice,” Rigg said.

“There is so much more behind Junior ‘A’ hockey. It is on ice and off ice, injury reports for Hockey Canada, making sure they are getting the proper rehab if they do have an injury, whether it is from a chiropractor of some type of sports medicine, massages, any of that type of therapy.”

Like coaching, there is a certification program trainers must progress through and Rigg currently has Level III certification.

“In minor hockey, you need Level I,” she said.

“Basically, it is understanding concussion protocols, with Rowan’s Law, understanding gender identity, stuff like that.

“When you get into Level II and Level III, you have to understand taping. If they have shoulder injuries, you know how to tape those. Typically, in minor hockey you don’t tape young children because their bones are still developing.

“That’s more of a doctor’s call, but when you are up in the higher levels you can.

“We also have great programs the NOJHL has offered us. We work with Head Check, as well as an impact assessment program.

“Each of the players on our team has to do pre-baseline assessment for concussions so if they do have concussion-like symptoms we have something to compare it to.

“We have an app on our phones so if I need to pull a player off I can give them their test right then and there and we can determine whether they can return to play.”

After her first weekend on the job, Rigg was confident being a full-time trainer at the Junior ‘A’ level was something she would find rewarding.

“The guys really enjoyed having me around. I guess I am a little bit of a Type A (personality) and a perfectionist and our head coach, Corey Beer, really appreciated that because he is very busy developing all of the game plays, working with the guys on their skills and drills,” she said.

“Now, the guys know how I work and what I expect out of them, what they can expect out of me.”

Not only is Rigg the Rock’s head trainer, she is also the team’s mental health liaison, as well.

“So, I work in tandem with our local CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) if the kids have any mental health struggles they are going through, whether it is the loss of a teammate’s family member, or a sudden illness,” she said.

Rigg describes being a trainer as almost being the team’s “mom” 24/7.

“They don’t have their parents with them on the road, so I often become the head parent of the team,” she said.

“I joke with many of my family members I have 23 sons every year and I guess this year it is 25 sons.”

Away from the rink, Rigg is the co-ordinator of meetings, conventions and sports tourism at Tourism Timmins.

“People really need to have a love of the game of hockey when they become a trainer or a coach,” she said.

“Honestly, sometimes it is a 24-hour, seven-day a week job. People don’t really understand my day doesn’t stop when the game is over.

“Typically, if we play a 7 p.m. game, I am at the rink at 4:30 p.m., making sure everything was done the night before by my assistant trainer (Chris Lefebvre), making sure if the lineup did change we can put jerseys out.

“Then, the guys usually come in and if we need to do assessments or taping, we can. Get the Gatorade ready, get the water ready, make sure all of the pre-game stuff is ready.

“Then, it is show time. They have their warmup for 15 minutes and we also have to supply the other team with ice and game pucks, get all that ready and assist the other trainer in our building.

“Make sure they are aware of our policies, if there is an injury what door are we using, what where our AED (automated external defibrillator) is located.”

Typically, an NOJHL contest can last upwards of three hours.

“During the 15-minute breaks, when they are flooding the ice, we might be dealing with injuries, giving the coach and update if there was an injury, whether or not that player is coming back, refilling the water bottles,” Rigg said.

“It is a race. The guys go in, who needs what? We go from there, get back on the bench.

“Then, after I will assess if there was a major injury, does he need a few stitches, will he be out for a few days, go for medical assessment, etc. Then, it’s laundry and hopefully bed, at some point.”

That game-day experience can involve even more work, of course, if the visiting team’s trainer is not with them.

“I am very fortunate to have a great team of trainers with me, Chris Lefebvre and Mel Cameron, who is our massage therapist,” Rigg said.

“If I do need to take care of the other team, as well, I will have my assistant trainer hope on the bench, or stand in the middle so he can continue watching the play.

“Luckily, we have never had, knock on wood, two injuries from the same team where there has only been one trainer.

“I have had to help out the Soo Eagles a number of times when their trainer was unable to attend and we had a few stitches to do. It is always great because we usually have our medical doctors attending games, as well.”

This season, of course, everything in the hockey world is different, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are kind of in our own little team bubble,” Rigg said.

“All of our players and staff were tested at the beginning for COVID-19 and we have a daily COVID-19 screening, as well as a daily temp check, per league protocols.

“We have always told the guys, if you feels like you have any of the number of symptoms, let us know and we will go from there.

“We would hate to have an outbreak on the team.

“As of right now, we are following the City of Timmins rules, as well, when it comes to practising in the facilities.

“Our players get dressed and ready to go in the parking lot and then they enter the facility and we have our practice.

“They have all been assigned their own water bottles and bench towels, with all their numbers on them. They bring all of them home with them and they are expected to wash them.”

If there is a tiny silver lining in this dark, ominous cloud that is COVID-19 it is the reduced number of loads of laundry Rigg and other trainers across the league are required to do each week.

“To be honest, I have probably only done probably two loads of laundry and it was when we had inter-squad games,” she said.

“We used our game jerseys for those inter-squad games.”

NOJHL return-to-play protocols dictate that trainers are not to wash any gear.

“So, if and when we are allowed back into our trainer’s room, as well as our dressing room during games, players will be required to bring their own stuff and physically put it into the washing machines,” Rigg said.

“Then, I will be able to wash it, but it will only be game jerseys and socks. Towels they will have to bring home now.

“As well, we will be required to have our facemasks on, while doing proper social distancing and all that.

“Even when it comes to equipment, it is the responsibility of the player to put it together right now, which is a change.”

Speaking of equipment, fans — those watching games on HockeyTV or should the rules change and they be allowed in the stands — will notice all players are wearing full plastic face shields this season instead of the half visors worn in previous seasons.

“I would imagine face cuts and other facial injuries will be reduced,” Rigg said.

“They have all been supplied with the CCMs or the Bauer Concept 3s, which we in the hockey world call the fish bowls.

“It is league mandated. They feel it will help reduce the spread of COVID-19.”