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TAKING SHAPE: INJURY PREVENTION AND REHAB

Wednesday, 02.01.2006 / 4:58 PM / Los Angeles Kings | News
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TAKING SHAPE: INJURY PREVENTION AND REHAB
Ryan Flinn's schedule these days usually includes spending copious amounts of time at the Toyota Sports Center, preparing for his next game in a Kings uniform. Unfortunately, Flinn has no idea when that will be.

Recalled from Manchester on Nov. 26 and thrown directly into the Kings line-up that night, Flinn suffered a concussion in just his second appearance of the season, hitting his head on the ice after a horrific fall. He has been on the Injured Reserve list ever since.

Flinn is just one cog on a Kings team the seems to have spent more time in the trainer's room than on the ice.

That's where Robert Zolg comes in. Zolg, the team's Rehabilitation Trainer, has been a very busy man this season, dealing with stars Pavol Demitra, Alexander Frolov, Luc Robitaille, Jeremy Roenick and, of course, Flinn, among others.

Zolg has helped over 10 Kings with various injuries this season. According to him, each player is different, even when the injury is similar.

"There is no cookie-cutter approach to dealing with injured players," Zolg said. "Even if two players have the same shoulder injury, someone might require more hands on while another player may require more stretching or soft tissue techniques to improve symptoms and get back on the ice."

For injured players, the workouts can be even more rigorous than those for active players. They undergo an intense routine that has them arriving at 7 a.m. and going through all sorts of different treatments.

"(The injured players) will then have a strength and conditioning workout in the weight room while focusing on areas that are not injured," Zolg said. "After that, depending on where they are in the rehab process, they participate in a light skate ranging anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. After that they come back for a second round of treatment.

"There isn't any rest involved. In fact, injured players actually spend more time at the facility than players practicing and playing in the games."

The bottom line is that "players don't like being injured because it literally means they have to work that much harder to get back on the ice," Zolg added.

Even with top-notch trainers and equipment, the physical workouts are only one aspect of the rehabilitation process. And often times, it is the easiest part.

Mentally, players must put themselves in a place wear they can trust their bodies again, which is not the easiest thing to do when dealing with some of the more severe injuries. In the beginning, players can be hesitant during even an easy 10-minute skate with no contact. Slowly the player will work his way up to 20-30 minutes, eventually getting to the point where he can resume practice and take a hit.

"It is a long gradual process," Zolg said. "Even with players that have had surgery and come back during the season, they don't feel 100 percent until they've rejoined and started playing with the team. It is not until they've been hit a few times or hit other players that they rebuild their confidence and truly get the injury out of their minds and don't have to worry about it."

Zolg said he truly believes that you can clearly notice if this gradual process has been cheated.

"I am not the only person to see when the process has been cheated," Zolg said. "The coaches see it and other players and fans can notice that as well."

King right wing George Parros agreed that the mental part of rehab can be hard on a player. Parros missed 15 games earlier this season with an ankle sprain.

"You can't think about the injury when you are playing," Parros said. "If you feel good about what you are doing off the ice then you are going to feel good on the ice."

For Zolg and the rest of the trainers, their job goes beyond just helping those who have suffered injuries. A lot of their job has to do with preventing injuries from occurring in the first place.

"While doing strength and conditioning the players aim for optimal strength and flexibility and in doing so it better prepares them for practice and games," Zolg said. "The better prepared they are to play, the more it reduces their chances of injury."

According to Parros, the players take the trainers' advice seriously.

"If you are in bad shape, you are slowed down to the point where guys are hitting harder and you put yourself in a worse position," Parros said.

As for Flinn, the waiting game continues.

"There is not much I can do about it," Flinn said. "When my head is ready for it I will get back on the ice. At this point you try to eat more sensibly. When I get back, my body should be able to adapt."