Perhaps the most surprising thing learned from a session in the treatment room of Victoria Royals head athletic therapist Khore Elliott is how much stock he puts in winning.
“Of course, it’s all about winning,” grins the 35-year-old.
The Saanich resident has been fixing Royals and Salmon Kings since he joined the organization in 2009.
Obviously for Elliott and others of his trade, it’s not truly win at all costs. It’s about getting players back on the ice as soon as possible, and putting them in a position to succeed, he says.
But a recount of his past two seasons at Hockey Canada’s U17 national tournament is measured by wins and losses as much as everything else. And now the pressure is on again, as the Saanich resident is taking his talents to the next level, joining with Team Canada’s U18 team for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial international tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Aug. 10 to 15.
“It’s Hockey Canada, the one (entity) that goes against the stereotypical Canadian characteristics. We’re not there to be polite. We’re there to win, it’s almost ironic.”
Elliott’s one of four Royals slated to work for Hockey Canada this year, as head equipment manager Matt Auerbach will join Dave Lowry (U20 head coach) as an assistant equipment manager at the IIHF World Junior tournament at Christmas. And Royals’ team doctor Michael Conrad will work with Canada’s national U17 program.
Hockey Canada uses the Hlinka as a key step in the Program for Excellence national development model, having won the tournament seven straight times. The eight-team, round robin tournament is split into two pools, with Canada facing the Czechs, Sweden and Switzerland in three straight days, Aug. 10 to 12.
But it starts even sooner than that, with Elliott arriving in Calgary on July 30 for Hockey Canada’s five-day selection camp ahead of their European departure.
“It’s compressed, there’s no other way to put it,” Elliott said. “It’s a much different experience than the regular (WHL) season. If I can get six hours of sleep at night I’ll be lucky.”
In other words, the challenges he’ll face at the coming U18 selection camp and subsequent tournament are essentially the same ones he faces every year at the start of Royals training camp, but in fast forward. When he gets back to Victoria around Aug. 17, he starts all over again as Royals new and old arrive for draft camp beginning Aug. 25.
“You get a lot of kids who don’t know you, and they don’t trust you, and they don’t understand my role. Some will try to keep things from me, not realizing my job, but eventually we get through to them.”
A veteran athletic therapist once told Elliott, the players don’t care what you know, they just want to know you care.
Being in the national program is more than just providing therapy to players. It means chipping in with the equipment manager to fold towels, fetch water and deal with gear, an all-hands-on-deck situation. It’s even more intense than the Royals’ regular season, when Elliott will usually spend 70 hours at the rink.
“It’s a lifestyle choice. There’s a lot of paperwork and administration, such as insurance, or setting up meetings, things that people don’t realize we do.”
At an international tournament such as the Hlinka, Elliott will be at the rink all day. Because it’s summer, he is able to take a break from monitoring the status of Royals players. If a Royal has an injury or other concern, they can connect with one of the team’s two Camosun College student practitioners, J.T. Ward, who worked previously with the Victoria Cougars Jr. B team, and Curtis Hawkins, who’s currently with the Victoria HarbourCats. And Elliott is always a phone call away, just as he was at the U17 tournament which happened during WHL season. In that case, Elliott stayed up until 1 a.m., or later, conferring with the students.
“They’re great, and they can handle a lot, but there’s a lot to it,” Elliott says.
Originally from the Comox Valley, Elliott was one of seven in Camosun’s first graduating class of athletic therapists. He started as a student practitioner with the Salmon Kings under Dave Zarn, who is now on the Vancouver Canucks’ training staff.
By default, being on Hockey Canada’s staff becomes a networking exercise. He works with the U18 team doctor, coaching staff and equipment manager, most of whom are from teams in the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Making those connections is vital. When Joe Hicketts ruptured his tricep early into his all-important NHL draft-eligible season, Elliott learned about it from a surprising source.
“I guess someone from the Edmonton Oilers went through the same injury back in the day, and I was able to talk with Oiler’s (veteran) therapist Ken Lowe when we visited the Oil Kings.”
Typically, however, athletic therapists don’t swap player injury stories, and for obvious reasons. But as a home team, they do try to provide as much as they can for the visiting teams.
“You try to treat other teams the same way you want to be treated,” he says.
The Hlinka is Elliott’s third straight year working for Hockey Canada as he worked on the Team Canada Black staff at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in November, and Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Nova Scotia during the 2013-14 season. The latter team featured Royals’ forward Tyler Soy, defenceman Chaz Reddekopp and assistant coach Enio Sacilotto.
“The thing about those tournaments is you can prepare as much as you want, but the team will lose by a goal. When that happens, it’s a fast exit. The room is silent. And within an hour or so, the gear is packed and everyone is headed to the airport. That’s it.”