With all the protective equipment hockey players are required to wear, one would think injuries would be far and few between.
The equipment — which includes shin pads, shoulder pads, chest and back plates, elbow guards and helmets with visors — covers most of a player’s body, but unless you truss up a player in bubble wrap and keep him on the bench, injuries are bound to happen.
For the Tri-City Americans, the last two seasons have seen athletic therapist Darcy Ewanchuk earning every dime of his paycheck.
During the 2012-13 season, the Americans had nearly 200 lost games to injuries, and this season is on the same path, with 102 games lost heading into tonight’s home game against the Kamloops Blazers.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” said Ewanchuk, who is in his fourth season with the Americans. “You can have a year where you have all kinds of shoulder injuries and the next year there are none. They are just freak sort of things. What happens out on the ice has nothing to do with how prepared they are. They are physically ready to play.”
Americans coach Jim Hiller doesn’t know about every ailment among his players. He trusts that Ewanchuk will do his best to make sure everyone is taken care of.
“He’s busy,” Hiller said. “He deals with the bumps and bruises daily that we don’t even know about as coaches. We only interact when it’s something significant — if someone won’t be able to practice or play.”
The Americans have four key players out with injuries at the moment, but earlier injuries impacted the team, as well.
“Those players are leaders on the team,” Hiller said. “They are veteran players who have already had success in the league. When you take too many of those players out at one time, it really puts a strain on everybody else. When you look at a guy like Parker (Bowles) who scores or contributes to scoring, that’s where one key play in a game can make a difference.”
The Americans’ injury list started before the season got under way, as Bowles still was recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. His first game was Nov. 1 at Medicine Hat.
Bowles played 11 games before injuring his knee against Spokane on Nov. 23. He had yet another surgery and is scheduled to be back at the end of January. He has missed 30 games.
Despite playing just 11 games, he still is the team’s fifth-leading scorer with four goals and 15 assists.
After Bowles, the dominoes continued to fall.
Three games into the season, forward Taylor Vickerman was sent into the boards by Portland’s Brendan Leipsic. Vickerman injured his shoulder and had surgery. Vickerman is back in action and has played 14 of the team’s 41 games.
In the Medicine Hat game when Bowles returned, defenseman Wil Tomchuk hurt his wrist. He played until Nov. 23 before having surgery to fix a broken scaphoid bone in his wrist. He got his cast off last Thursday and like Bowles, is expected back by the end of the month. He has missed 13 games.
His injury is the same one Ewanchuk sustained when he was 15 years old, but he never had the injury attended to until years later.
“Unfortunately for me, I never had anyone look it,” Ewanchuk said. “Fortunately with Wil, we caught it early and he won’t have to go through what I went through. Now that he’s out of the cast, we have to work on getting him back on the ice.”
Americans captain Mitch Topping broke his radius and his wrist in a game against Kelowna on Nov. 22. He also had surgery. The pins came out of his wrist a week ago and the overage defenseman is scheduled to return at the end the month. He has missed 14 games.
“We need him,” Topping said of Ewanchuk. “We all do. From the night my injury happened to today, I talk to him everyday. He’s always checking in with me and everyone else. He is crazy busy right now. He cares about us and the team’s health. When you have someone like that around, you appreciate them.
“I wouldn’t be as close to recovery at all if he wasn’t here. He sets up all of doctor appointments, everything. He does all that behind the scenes. No one really realizes that. You don’t want to have to deal with Darcy much, but if you have to, he’s one of the best in the league.”
Forward Jessey Astles has an undisclosed upper body injury and has missed the last four games, not to mention four games earlier in the season because of injuries.
“As I get on in years, I worry more,” Ewanchuk said. “Topping’s injury is something that has happened 100 times to him and 100 times to guys on the team since. It was just an innocent looking play. There’s nothing you can do about that. Parker said he’d never been hurt before until last year. But this is a different level and he’s not the biggest player on the team. It is a physical sport and there are physical demands.”
Ewanchuk, who recently worked his 1,000th WHL game, keeps track of injuries, treatments and doctors appointments.
“I do everything on paper,” Ewanchuk said. “That’s the best way. Every player has a file and I have sticky notes on my computer with dentist and doctor appointments, just like a parent.”
Phil Tot, who played just 15 games last year because of a concussion, has missed just three games with minor injuries this season, but all of the days add up for the Americans, who had to bring in reinforcements after Christmas when three rookies left to play in the World Under-17 Challenge.
Over the last 14 games, the Americans have just four wins.
“It is frustrating,” Topping said. “When you take out a couple veteran players it hurts. It’s hard to watch when you know not being out there impacts the team. We all want to be playing and that motivates us to get back.”