Joey Garland is completing his eleventh season as Athletic Therapist of the 2017 Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires. The Memorial Cup is awarded annually to the champions of the Canadian Hockey League.
A native of Newfoundland, Joey became interested in Athletic Therapy at a young age. In recent years he has also found success at the international level, winning Gold with Team Canada at the World U-18 Championships in Russia and representing his country again in 2014 at the U-20 Championships.
Garland graduated with a B.Sc. (Kinesiology) from Dalhousie University in 2002 and also obtained his Sports Injury Management Diploma from Sheridan College in 2005. In the midst of the whirlwind of Windsor hosting the Memorial Cup tournament, Joey took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about his passion.
You have had some success on a global scale with Team Canada and are now entering your 11th season with the Spitfires, why did you choose Athletic Therapy?
Joey: I guess I chose athletic therapy because I have loved sports from a young age. I was never really good at anything but I knew the culture was something that I wanted to stay involved in. I have also always enjoyed watching athletes perform on TV and hated when players got hurt. Even my mom recalls stories from before I can remember of me as a kid watching first responders run out to assist an injured athlete during a televised game, and I always said, “I wanna do that.” So uhh (laughs) I think it was just in me to do.
What is your favourite part about your job?
Joey: My favourite part of my job is just seeing the boys perform. At this level and when they advance. Our league is very much developmental. Namely, it is trying to produce elite athletes, professional hockey players, but even more than that just good people. I keep track as they move to other endeavours and from time to time I get an email from a former player looking to get into Athletic Therapy, Kinesiology, or strength and conditioning. They appreciated what I did for them, and are now also looking to move into the same role as professionals. It is a special feeling.
What are the top 3 most common injuries you handle on a day-to-day basis?
Joey: AC sprains, MCL sprains, and concussions
In your position with the Spitfires, how do you handle player concussions?
Joey: We have a league protocol. Additionally, the OHL has a neuropsych consultant that our team works with. We get a baseline done for each of the boys at the beginning of the season via impact testing. Starting next year we will also be using HeadCheck to help with data collection, storing, and sharing of protocols. Once an incident occurs athletes are re-tested and that along with their symptoms will be examined to determine whether they are cleared or initiate a return-to-play protocol.
How do you treat concussions on a personal level? Undoubtedly, it is a daunting injury for a young player. How do you provide both physiological and psychosocial support for your athletes?
Joey: In this regard there has actually been a bit of a swing since I joined the profession over a decade ago. Concussions have become slightly easier to treat due to players, parents, agents, and coaches being more informed about the realities of the injury. Particularly with the publicity surrounding players like Sidney Crosby, concussions have been given much more emphasis and legitimacy at the highest level. There is a greater understanding of the long-term ramifications that head injuries can have on one’s career and even quality of life as a human being. That being said, telling a kid that they are going to miss any length of time is really difficult. Nobody wants to sit out.
If you could hold your own workshop, what is your thing? What fuels your fire/what are you the BEST at?
Joey: I would say incorporating strength and conditioning with athletic therapy to minimize injury, and reduce the time missed. I am passionate about integrating strength and conditioning with the therapy aspect of training. I love the blend of “prehab” exercises with rehabilitation and still staying active with the team even if it is in a limited capacity. But when speaking of the strength and conditioning aspect of my job there is a lot of psychology that comes into play. Not every player reacts the same way to the same exercises or rehab protocols so it is important to consistently adapt to the individual. It can be challenging because players get advice from different people or have heard the “key to success” or the best way to make it to the NHL from agents, parents, and other athletes. What I want most is to get each of them performing at their full potential while explaining that there are many ways to find success in hockey. Buying into the system part of it is crucial, and is often the difference maker between good teams and champions.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Joey: Well (laughs) probably pretty much the same thing. It is dealing with all of the outside sources and getting a player to buy in to what we’re doing and why what we are doing is going to be best for them. The information they are getting from other sources may not be wrong, but it is just not how we do it here.
Unfortunately, you guys were eliminated in the first round of playoffs, how did you help ensure that Windsor would be ready to host the Memorial Cup tournament?
Joey: The coaches and I sat down, looked at our calendar, and realized that we had 44 days to peak. We could have viewed this period as a long lay off where we could get rusty and slow, but instead we chose to see it as an advantage. We had a unique opportunity to get healthy and into excellent shape. In coordination with the RMT, I also brought in a yoga instructor and consulted with a few other strength coaches. We created a 6-week program to peak for May 19th. The guys bought in. All the credit goes to the players. They could have sat on their thumbs and waited or only given a half effort at the gym but they never once wavered. I think it showed with our results.
How do you communicate and coordinate with ATs and rehabilitation staff from other teams?
Joey: There was a generalized medical meeting at the beginning of the tournament. Basically an explanation of the protocols, relevant contacts, and resources teams can access while they are here. More personally, we all talk and communicate professionally. The relationships between support staff are very open and casual. We have our league meetings and that is really where we share. This is where we help each other to get better individually and as a group.
What is your favourite part about the hockey community?
Joey: My favourite part of the hockey community is…how do I explain this…it is a small world. I’ll be in a random airport and I will run into someone that played here 6 years ago. For example, one year at the World Junior tournament I was in Malmo, Sweden and I got a random knock on my hotel room door. It was a former Spitfires player that happened to be playing professionally there. It is a very interconnected community and you would be hard pressed to find more than two degrees of separation no matter where you go. I think it is pretty neat. I grew up and lived in Newfoundland for most of my life and we are pretty isolated (laughs). Elite trainers, NHL players, the best hockey brains in the world; I always looked up to them as a kid and now to be integrated into the same circles is such an exciting privilege for me.
What would you most like to see progress in hockey safety?
Joey: Well, this answer is something that I have become extremely focused on in the last couple of years. I will be finishing my masters this summer and much of my research has focused on early specialization in youth sports. Kids are playing hockey and only hockey at a very young age at the expense of trying other sports or activities. In my scope, this is where overuse injuries really come into play. Surgeries, sports hernias, labral tears, or conditions like FAI developing in 16 or 17 year-olds. In reality, these types of conditions or injuries should never occur so young. They are more commonly seen in the 25-30 year old athlete age range, if ever. Additionally, these kids do not have the same athleticism coming in and I find are more prone to even minor ailments. One of my goals in my job here and as an athlete therapist overall is to get the message out there to young talent to broaden their base. I think that all children under 12 should seek balance and compete in a variety of sports.
After being eliminated in the first round of the 2017 OHL playoffs, Windsor completed an intense 6-week training program led by Garland in order to prepare for the Memorial Cup tournament. The Spitfires opened strong, and swept the competition in round robin play – finishing with a 3-0 record. This was enough to clinch a spot in the final. Windsor faced the Erie Otters in a fast-paced and physical game, emerging as the 2017 Memorial Cup Champions with a 4-3 victory.
Joey Garland is yet another example of the integral role rehabilitation science plays in athletic success, individually and on a team level. Joey facilitates the harmony of strength training, sport psychology, and athletic therapy. This approach has helped him to excel in his field. Garland’s message of balance incorporates encouraging young athletes to try lots of different types of activity, nutritional and physical education, and ensuring continuous psychological and performance-oriented support. Although he loves to win and see each of his players perform, Joey also aims to nurture healthy, intelligent, and hard-working human beings, prepared for all of life’s future endeavours.
(Photo Credits: www.windsorspitfires.com)
BHK – Clinical Exercise Physiology
BSN-PB Student – Nursing (RN)