Cooper Rush lies prone on the paper-topped medical bed as John Beesley works his fingers deep into the shoulder muscle of the grimacing Chilliwack Chiefs defenceman.
"This is a good pain. You feel those pops?" asks Beesley, with a not-totally comfortable smile. "Those are my fingers. That's for you."
This isn't your average physiotherapy. But then, Rush-a six-foot-seven defenceman likely to be drafted in this summer's National Hockey League entry draft-isn't your average physiotherapy patient.
The Friday before this visit-Feb. 1-Rush injured his shoulder during a game against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The shoulder bent back too far during a routine defensive play and "popped," according to Rush.
Rush sat out a game the following day. On Monday he was in the offices of the Fraser Valley Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Centre. He returned on Tuesday, when this Times reporter sat in on his treatment. And he was set to come back Wednesday as well.
Again: not your average weekend warrior.
The Chiefs regularly send players to Beesley and his colleagues at the Landing Leisure Centre-based clinic. For a junior hockey team and its players, the benefits of a partnership with physiotherapists are obvious.
By working with players to rebuild and strengthen injured muscles, the physiotherapy helps the Chiefs return to action quicker than would be possible through simple rest. The treatment of the Chiefs relies on many of the same principals that guide the rehab of the elderly, those injured in car accidents, and broken rec hockey players. But it's more intense, Beesley said, with an emphasis on a speedy recovery and return to game play.
The need for speed exists both for the club and the individual. To be successful on the ice and in the stands, the Chiefs need their best players on the ice. Injuries are an accepted part of hockey, but if the healing process can be sped up, that can translate directly to results on the ice.
The players, meanwhile, hate to be on the sidelines, watching their teammates while they're hobbled by injury. Not only that, but when you're trying to earn a scholarship or be picked by an NHL team, missing games that might be attended by scouts can jeopardize a player's career.
That time pressure reduces some of the conservatism that usually accompanies the treatment of injuries in those with more time to spare.
"There's that fine line on getting them back safely, whereas for the average athlete we can err on the side of caution a little bit more because there isn't that pressure," Beesley said. "The idea is to get him on the ice as soon as it's safe."
Fortunately, because the Chiefs' bodies are young and sculpted by hours of exercise both on and off the ice, physiotherapists can push the athletes to points older, or less fit patients, shouldn't go.
"Athletes have great drive to do everything possible to get back and do as much as possible." Beesley said. "We can try all different things that I wouldn't ask other clients to do."
Sometimes, that drive can be dangerous and physiotherapists have to actually hold athletes back from doing too much work on their own.
But that, Beesley said, "is a good problem to have. It [would be] a bigger issue if they didn't want to."
For someone like Rush, rehab will become something of a job. After he's done with Beesley, he will head next door to the rink. And while he won't hit the ice, he will still put in several hours of exercise both on the bike and doing exercises prescribed during physio.
For Rush, that effort is worth it if it will allow him to unleash his bullet-like slapshot a little sooner.
"I hate sitting out and watching the guys," he said. Physiotherapy, Rush said, "is fantastic. It gets you back quicker, alleviates the pain."
But it's hardly comfortable. "Is that tolerable?" Beesley asks Rush as he pushes into his shoulder.
"Pretty painful," comes the reply.
"Then I'll keep going," the physiotherapist says. "This is a good pain."
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