18 Mar

Breakaway Magazine - Issue 14 - Cross Trainer

Kevin Kacer Athletic Trainer

By Justin Skelnik | Photos by Ross Dettman

Chicago Wolves Head Athletic Trainer Kevin Kacer lives by one motto when it comes to his job: always be prepared.

In Kacer’s line of work, he has to be ready for everything when it comes to the players he is in charge of keeping healthy. This season, the Wolves have gone through a number of injuries that required Kacer’s attention. The more injuries occur, the busier his job gets.

“Right now, we have a lot going on and a lot of guys dealing with issues,” Kacer said. “You never know what is going to happen. You just always have to be prepared. Hockey is a tough, physical, demanding game. People call it a contact sport. I call it a collision sport. Bodies are getting bigger, stronger and faster every year. Injuries happen. You just have to be ready for anything.”

After a player suffers an injury, a timetable is set for his return. Leading up to that return date, the player will go through rehab or treatment sessions that Kacer oversees. He likes to get the players in for treatments around 8:30 a.m. so if they respond well, they can practice or participate in the morning skate. When treatments are done and practice starts, Kacer can never be too far away from the ice.

“Any time guys are on the ice, I have to be watching in case something happens,” Kacer said. “I am always right there to be able to help a guy if he aggravates something or another injury occurs.”

After practice, a few shorter treatment sessions will take place. These tend to take less time, as guys want to get out of the building quickly to get home and rest up if there is a game that night.

{gallery}/breakaway/0910/kacer:::1:0:{/gallery}He also is responsible for keeping and updating player injury logs, which he must do on a daily basis. With the team made up of players on both National Hockey League and American Hockey League contracts, he has two systems he must use.

“Being affiliated with the Thrashers, all of our Atlanta players are on a web-based injury reporting and monitoring system,” Kacer explained. “All of my daily reports, injury reports and rehab follow ups have to be entered into the computer so the staff in Atlanta can monitor their players.

“The Wolves players are all done just by paperwork. It is a lot of record keeping, but the more detailed you get, the better off you will be in the long run. You can always look back and see how you handled something if a current player has the same type of injury.”

Kacer has seen his share of injuries throughout the 15 years he has occupied the Wolves training office. Besides treating broken legs, cuts from skates and dealing with concussions, he has helped get players through a multitude of minor injuries.

“It is not just big-time injuries I deal with,” said Kacer. “I’ve dealt with things as small as a paper cut. I have dealt with a guy who came in after tripping over a cement parking block. I have had to do laceration work at 3 a.m. I can’t tell you how many times I have made calls to doctors or dentists for family members of players and scouts from out of town. People come to me for a lot of things.”

Many of those things are medically related, but there are times when Kacer is looked to for answers that have nothing to do with health.

“I am a dad to a lot of these guys,” Kacer said. “I joke saying that, but a lot of these guys have been away from home since they were 14, 15 years old. We have had guys come in here and not know how to start a checking account. I have had to show them how to write a check.”

Wolves General Manager Wendell Young notices the impact Kacer has on his players on and off the ice.

“If you look around the AHL, you won’t find many trainers or equipment managers with the tenure of our guys,” said Young, who has worked with Kacer as a player, coach and now executive. “Kacer has been here for 15 years, so he is a full- service type guy. He is kind of the sounding board for players. He helps them feel comfortable off the ice and when that happens, we don’t have to worry about that aspect going forward and it tends to help their play on the ice.

“I think that is what our team is all about. Everyone helps out and does tasks for the better of the team that may not strictly fall in the framework of his or her title, and Kacer definitely helps out in areas besides medical.”

Kacer didn’t know what to expect when he took the job with the Wolves but he now knows that he couldn’t have asked for anything better. Looking back over his time with the team, Kacer points to the four championships as a high point, but one main theme sticks out to him and he admits it is something he didn’t prepare for.

“The championships have been great, but being able to share my job with my family has been special,” said Kacer. “You don’t get that opportunity in most professions.

That is one of the greatest things about the Wolves; we don’t look at ourselves as a team, we look at ourselves as a family. That is something I never saw coming.”