NHL players work incredibly hard year-round to perform at their highest levels, though they do not achieve these statuses alone. The players receive a selfless and abundant amount of help from men and women who work their tails off behind the scenes. These include nutritionists, equipment managers, personal trainers, and athletic trainers. Athletic trainers by definition are certified and licensed health care professionals who practice in the field of sports medicine. The man who heads the athletic training department for your Boston Bruins is Don DelNegro.
Don celebrated his 2,000th NHL game on November 21, 2019. He has been with the Bruins and NHL since the 1993 season as Head Athletic Trainer and has received numerous accolades throughout his career, at the collegiate and professional level. Prior to joining the Bruins, he served as Williams College’s Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer for the U.S. Olympic Bobsled and Luge teams in the 1992 Olympics. The following year, DelNegro had a normal phone conversation with a former colleague and head athletic trainer for the U.S. Olympic Committee, Ed Ryan. Ed told Don he had turned down the Bruins’ offer to be their next athletic trainer. Don didn’t waste any time after Ed delivered the news. ““I literally called (general manager) Harry Sinden from Lake Placid (N.Y.) and I said, ‘I understand you’re looking for a head athletic trainer.'” Sinden granted DelNegro a chance at the position, giving his six months to try-out. DelNegro jumped at the opportunity and has solidified himself in the black and gold.
Athletic trainers do not work the 9-5 schedule that most of the working population is used to. Their typical workdays are strenuous, generally beginning early in the morning and prolonging into the night. Don is usually the first employee to arrive at the facility and last to leave. On a practice morning, DelNegro will prepare the training room for incoming players. He and his staff will fill the whirlpool tubs and ensure the training room is ready for an influx of injured players. Injured players remedying their sore muscles will sit in the ice-cold tub. Some need their muscles and bodies wrapped in medical gauze to avoid further injury. DelNegro will deliver treatments to any player that is in need before and during practice. He will prepare the bench for the coaches and players and watch practice for any injury that may come up. Don is always on-call and rarely enjoys a five-minute coffee break or hour-long lunch. He’ll perform post-practice injury checks with players who require more medical attention. He and his team will clean up the training room when players leave the facility and host team meetings to debrief.
Game days require longer hours because players have their routines, especially on the road. Don will arrive at the rink two hours before puck drop and stay far beyond the end of the game. If the Bruins are the away team, the players will check-in to the hotels and go on with their routines. DelNegro will go to the rink and set up the temporary workspace for the night. During the games, he is manning the bench and first on the ice when a player is in need of assistance.
With how fast the game is, it is typically difficult for the referees to stop play when a player is injured. Other players on the ice will alert officials and the bench if the injury needs more attention. DelNegro rushes to the player’s side with the help of fellow teammates. He will talk with the player to find out exactly what pains they’re experiencing, even if the injury was blatantly obvious. If a player is bleeding, he will pressure the wound and do his best to avoid further leakage onto the ice. He helps them off the ice and into the training room. Sometimes, players will skate off on their own power and DelNegro is waiting at the bench doors to help the player down the tunnel and into the room. He is the Bruins’ first responder, and the players do not let it go unnoticed. On the night of DelNegro’s 2,000th game, the Bruins put together a video of the players and management congratulating DelNegro on a successful career thus far.
There’s never an off-night for DelNegro. He has lived up to the expectation of continuously assisting the players when they need it most. He was an integral part of the Stanley Cup run, keeping players as healthy as they could be to bring the Cup home to Boston. Sinden made the right choice giving DelNegro a chance at the role. It is an exceptional accomplishment and Don does not seem to be slowing down. Congratulations from the Bruins community and thank you, Don, for always allowing the players to perform at their highest levels.