As Medical Director/Head Team Physician for the Boston Bruins since 2008, Peter Asnis, MD, leads a team of orthopedic surgeons, internists, physical therapists and nurses who are responsible for the day-to-day care of the players, so they can do their best both on and off the ice.
“It's great to have the doctors on a day-to-day basis just in case anything happens, says Charlie Coyle, center for the Bruins since 2018. “Pre-game, mid-game, and post-game, they’re there for our needs and we feel safe having them there.”
In this Q&A, Dr. Asnis discusses the joys and challenges of keeping professional athletes at their peak condition (especially during playoffs), finding balance between his work with the Bruins and caring for athletes of all levels as an orthopedic surgeon at Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine, and some tips for amateur players who want to get the most out of their sport.
Q: Can you talk about what your day-to-day looks like working with the Bruins team?
Asnis: This is my 14th season as Medical Director/Head Team Physician for the Boston Bruins. My job entails, first and foremost, taking care of the players, their families, the coaches and the front office. I work with a team of physicians from Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine to provide comprehensive care for the Bruins family. The nice thing about being affiliated with Mass General Brigham is that we have specialists and subspecialists in every field of medicine that can provide care to deal with any medical problem that we encounter. If a player experiences any type of injury or illness, we have an expert who can help.
Working at Mass General Brigham dovetails well with my work with the Bruins. Both are world-class organizations and it’s so great to see them work together toward a common goal — taking care of the team and giving them the competitive advantage to do well in the regular season, the post-season — and in life!
Q: What is your work like on a game day?
Asnis: By the afternoon of game day, I have already spoken to the trainers and therapists about the players who are injured. For the players that are able to play, we review the current plan for the day that will optimize the players chance to succeed. For the players that are not cleared to play, we talk about what is in store over the next few days to give them the best chance to return efficiently and safely. I arrive at the game at around 5:30 to see players who need attention. When the game begins at 7:00, we are basically on call. Usually there will be a few injuries during the game that require attention from the medical staff. There is often a fair amount of stitches to be sewn.
During the regular season, we also care for the visiting team. In the playoffs, two doctors (one orthopedist and one internist) travel with the team. As you get to the playoffs, the level of intensity rises. These athletes have spent their entire lives training and preparing to win it all. Our goal as a medical staff is to have them in peak physical shape as they enter the post-season.
Q: What is the biggest challenge to caring for professional athletes and what is your favorite part?
Asnis: I think the biggest challenge is finding balance between our work with the professional athletes and our work with Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine. Traveling with the team during the playoffs obviously has a big effect on our schedule and requires rescheduling of clinic and surgical days. Over the years, we have figured out ways to minimize the effect that this has on our patients. We have great respect for our patients and their time. We are lucky that many of our patients are big fans of the Bruins as well.
My favorite part about taking care of the Bruins has to do with the relationships that you build over the years. You get to know the players, the medical staff, the front office and the entire Bruins family in many ways. I have developed many friendships through my work with the Bruins. I have also learned an awful lot about sports medicine through my work with the Bruins. When a player sustains an injury, we see them almost every day to track the progress of their recovery. Learning about how injuries evolve on a daily basis is not something we get to do in our normal practice. It is great to bring this knowledge back to our practices at Mass General Brigham and it gives our patients the same competitive advantage as our professional athletes. Of course, it has been a great time to be a team physician in Boston given the success that our teams have enjoyed over the past 20 years. It has been amazing to have played a small role in that over the years.
Q: How does your work with professional athletes translate to your care of amateur athletes?
Asnis: Professional athletes make a living on their bodies, their health and their ability to perform. We need to be on the cutting edge when it comes to the delivery of care for their injuries and illnesses. We take that same approach and the lessons that we learn from the pros back to our practices. It provides peace of mind for our patients at Mass General Brigham. Our patients know that they receive the same medical care as our professional athletes.
Q: Do you have any tips for amateur hockey players watching at home?
Asnis: I firmly believe that it is best to play multiple sports. We see specialization at young age, but a lot of injuries come from training and playing in one sport all year. It is important to participate in multiple physical activities, and non-physical activities. The days when kids would play outside with friends in the backyard until they were called in for dinner seems to be over. In many ways, I wish we could get back to those days.
In hockey, we see a lot of hip injuries. There are things you can do to modify your training protocols to avoid injury. Our trainers and physical therapists spend a lot of time reviewing training programs with athletes so they can prevent injury and avoid putting patients in positions where they might get hurt.
Charlie Coyle adds: “I think every kid should learn to warm up properly, take the right step so that they're ready to go and able to at their best ability.” He says one of his favorite pregame stretches is called “90/90,” where you're sitting down and you open up your hips to one side, reach over and then switch over to the other side, and do that repeatedly. He says it really opens up your hips and helps with tightness in your glutes.