Stan The Man

Long-Time Athletic Trainer Stan Wong A Fixture Behind The Bench And In The U.S. Locker Room

Stan Wong's professional demeanor and ability to stay cool under pressure have served various U.S. National and Olympic Teams well for close to 20 years.Stan Wong's professional demeanor and ability to stay cool under pressure have served various U.S. National and Olympic Teams well for close to 20 years.

In the hours after Team USA punched its ticket to the semifinals at the World Junior Championship with an impressive win over the Czech Republic, players were enjoying the fruits of a hard-fought victory as coaches began crafting a game plan for their next challenge. Meanwhile, at the Helsinki Ice Hall, Stan Wong and a few of his closest friends were feverishly tearing down the locker room that had been their home for the past 10 days.

By the time the team and coaching staff returned the following morning, the entire locker room had been magically transported down the street to the Hartwall Arena, the site of the final tournament games.

In the eyes of Wong, the long-time athletic trainer with U.S. National and Olympic Teams, it was all part of a day's work.

“The magic’s in knowing there is no magic. It comes down to consistent work,” he says, downplaying his role in the process.

“We do it with a smile because we’re happy to be here. I realize how blessed I am to be able to have this association with USA Hockey and to work with people I genuinely care for. It’s like I’ve found a pot of gold.”

If there’s one word that describes Wong, it’s “humble.” Actually, there are several words that could describe the affable native of Fall River, Mass.

“He’s a very loyal person when you get to know him as well as I do now,” says head coach Ron Wilson, who also worked with Wong at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. “He’s loyal to his family, which is the most important thing in his life, and that shows in how he treats the players as well.”

“He’s a guy who cares about everybody,” adds goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. “Sometimes he’s got 40 kids on the ice and everybody knows it’s hard to learn names, but by Day 2 he knows everybody.”

And everybody knows that Wong will do whatever it takes to help the team be successful, including packing boxes and hauling stick bags from one arena to the next. But mostly he’s there to take care of the players and see that their medical needs are met.

Sometimes that includes massaging bruised egos.

“Everybody thinks my work here is mostly physical, but I’d say I treat the players’ mental side even more,” Wong says. “We instill confidence in them, and we have to speak confidently, and honestly, and the players are so smart these days that they know what’s real.”

There was a time when a trainer would just hold up a few fingers and ask the player if he could count them. Today, with a greater understanding of serious injuries such as concussions, everyone is more aware of the implications of playing hurt. For Wong, that’s a role he takes very seriously.

Stan Wong has worked with both up-and-coming and established stars, like Dylan Larkin (center), during his time with U.S. National Teams, and has earned their respect and admiration.Stan Wong has worked with both up-and-coming and established stars, like Dylan Larkin (center), during his time with U.S. National Teams, and has earned their respect and admiration.

“These are great players, on their way to doing great things, and I don’t want to take the opportunity to wear an NHL jersey away from them,” he says. “Also, it’s not fair to the clubs and universities that lend the players to us—and it’s not fair to USA Hockey not to be represented in the very best way.”

With three Olympic tournaments, 14 World Juniors and nine straight World Championships under his belt, Wong represents continuity in the USA Hockey program. Some of the players on the World Juniors bronze-medal winning team will most likely bump into him at an international tournament at some point in the future.

“It used to take five years for them to play at the Worlds, after they’d left the Juniors. Now it’s maybe three years,” Wong says of the homegrown talent.

His experience also helps the players and everyone else involved with the team to deal with everything they may face in a tournament.

There are very few things that Stan hasn’t seen in the hockey world since he joined the Washington Capitals organization in 1986. His stint with the Caps lasted until 1999, and included a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. He later spent three seasons with the Florida Panthers.

“He likes to talk like he’s over the hill. I asked him the other day how old he is, and he said he was 57. Hey, I’m older than Stan!” Wilson said with a big laugh.

“He’s been around for a long time and he’s very respected. That’s exactly how you last that long.”

The energy also flows the other way. The players on the 2016 U.S. National Junior Team were born in 1996 or later.

 

We try to find laughter in everything because laughter is the best medicine. We’re not afraid of laughing at ourselves.

 

“They keep me young, they make me laugh and cry,” says Wong, who was inducted into the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society Hall of Fame in 2015. “We try to find laughter in everything because laughter is the best medicine. We’re not afraid of laughing at ourselves.”

Scott Aldrich, USA Hockey’s manager of hockey operations and one of the equipment managers at the World Juniors as well, has worked closely with Wong at a number of events. Aldrich says that whenever they go to a new arena or new tournament, former players always come by to seek out Wong, just to say hello, and to exchange a couple of friendly words.

“I see it all the time,” Aldrich says. “Like the guys who won the gold [at the World Juniors] in 2004. That’s the first thing they do. They just want to say hello, or give him a handshake, or a hug. That says a tremendous amount.”

As for Wong, he likes to talk about other people. He praises Aldrich, team doctor Phil Johnson and Jim Johannson, the assistant executive director of hockey operations of USA Hockey. He talks about the players and coaches. Practically everybody but himself.

“This organization has been awesome to me, personally. They treat people the way they’re supposed to be treated,” Wong says. “I’m a volunteer trainer, and I do this because USA Hockey invites me. JJ’s become a close friend and it’s a relationship built on respect.”

But the people he works with don’t hold back their praise for the unassuming trainer.

“He’s had a tremendous impact on me and I know he’s had a similar impact on other people as well,” Alex Nedeljkovic says.

 “He’s been one of the biggest role models I’ve had in the last couple of years. Without the past couple of years working with him, I wouldn’t be the goalie I am today. I probably wouldn’t even be the same person.”

Wong believes in treating everybody fairly, even opposing teams. The battles, he says, stay on the ice.

“Karma has a funny way of working out,” he says. “It’s amazing how far a small gesture of goodwill goes and it extends for the whole country. Suddenly, people think that the whole team is good people, just because we helped somebody who is in a pickle.

“It’s all about people. People play a sport but they’re people first.”

And when it comes to people, there are few better than the man who is a fixture behind the Team USA bench.


Risto Pakarinen is a freelance writer based out of Helsinki.

 

Issue: 
2016-03

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