Flyers doctors headed to Sochi to look after the NHL's best

Flyers' Peter DeLuca will help care for NHL stars.
Flyers' Peter DeLuca will help care for NHL stars. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 09, 2014

Come Monday, Peter DeLuca and Gary Dorshimer will be returning to the stone age of medicine.

They will say goodbye to electronic records. For the next week and a half, it's back to old-fashioned pen and paper.

And they will bid farewell to their phones. No calling the office to check Mrs. Jones' vital signs.

DeLuca, the Flyers' team orthopedist, and Dorshimer, the team doctor, are set to ship out Sunday afternoon to Sochi, Russia, where they will represent the NHL as doctors at the Winter Olympic Games. Their job: Keep tabs on the health of the 150 NHL players competing in the Games.

The schlep to Sochi, which starts with a flight from Newark's Liberty International, marks Dorshimer's fourth Winter Olympics; he previously staffed the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, and the 2010 Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For DeLuca, the trip will be a first.

"I'm going to be like a kid in a candy shop," said DeLuca, a sports medicine specialist with the Rothman Institute.

Both physicians, who were given the Olympics gig by the NHL Team Physicians Society, describe their preparations for Sochi, a global spectacle that has drawn international security concerns, as intense.

"Everybody's telling us that all of our communications will be bugged from the minute we land," said Dorshimer, a physician with Penn Personalized Care. "We're being extra careful."

This week, the NHL gave DeLuca and Dorshimer "clear phones" - Russian iPhones with preprogrammed contact information for NHL representatives in the United States and Canada. If they have to communicate with NHL teams about a player's injury, they have been instructed to refer to them by a unique number - hypothetically, a "1" for Flyers defender Kimmo Timonen, who will play for the Finnish national team - to keep their medical records private.

Both doctors said they plan to call their families from Sochi, but even those conversations will have to be kept short.

"I don't think the Russians are going to care if they hear me say, 'I love you,' to my wife," Dorshimer said.

The heightened pre-Sochi security, Dorshimer said, rivals the scene at Salt Lake City in 2002. When Dorshimer worked at those Games, which came months after 9/11, the Olympic Village struck him as a heavily armed fortress.

Dorshimer's Center City office is littered with memorabilia from his three trips to the Olympics. One is the hanging photograph of the scoreboard from the 1998 gold-medal hockey game in Nagano: Czech Republic 1, Russia 0.

Dorshimer says he will always remember those Games for one thing: the oohs and aahs that echoed through the stands whenever a player was checked violently into the boards. The Japanese fans appreciated the exhibitions of strength on the rink, he said.

And there is Dorshimer himself, who on Friday sported an ice-skate-shaped pin from the 2010 Vancouver Games on his white lab coat. Dorshimer is a self-proclaimed fan-physician and lifelong Flyers fan; even some of his patient charts were orange.

When the preliminary rounds begin Wednesday, it will be all hockey, all the time for the two physicians.

"I'd like to see some of the skiing events, but I'm not sure if that's going to be possible," DeLuca said.

One of the challenges during the games, DeLuca added, will be working with the national doctors for each country's team. Those doctors, along with the players themselves, have the final say when it comes to deciding whether an injured player can return to the ice.

"We're just there as consultants for the NHL," DeLuca said. "We're not first responders."

Stepping into the quagmire that is the Sochi Olympics, DeLuca acknowledged, it has been impossible to remain entirely at ease. But, he reasons, the experience of representing the NHL at the Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Dorshimer agreed.

"Like Vancouver, it's going to be a real hockey hotbed down there," he said. "I wouldn't miss it."

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