PHATS MEMBER Spotlight: Domenic Nicoletta
By Domenic Nicoletta
Head Athletic Trainer, Ottawa Senators
PHATS: What got you started in the athletic training profession and how did you get your start in Professional Hockey?
DN: I was introduced to the field of athletic therapy in my first year at the University of Ottawa. We had a guest speaker in our Intro to Human Kinetics class who happened to be the Head Athletic Therapist for the CFL team The Ottawa Rough Riders. Dave Berry filled us in on what his experiences were like in the CFL and some of his daily routines. I was really impressed with his responsibilities and the ability to work with elite athletes in a professional sports setting. The light bulb went off for me and I knew athletic therapy in a team setting was something I really wanted to explore.
My path to professional hockey also came through someone in the football world as well. I met Gerry Townend as an AT student when I volunteered to work a training camp for the Toronto Argonauts in 2000. I was hired as an assistant the following year and as fate would have it, the year after Gerry was hired by the Sens. When I learned he accepted the position, I basically begged him to consider me for the assistants position. A few weeks later, Gerry was gracious enough to give me another opportunity. It was truly unbelievable! If I have learned anything in all my years in pro sports is that you must make the most of every opportunity/ relationship no matter how big or how small. You never know what it could lead to. I could have easily said no to an unpaid CFL training camp as a jobless student.
PHATS: You started your professional hockey career with the Ottawa Senators, then with their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators and then back to the Senators. What helped you most in making those transitions?
DN: Two of the most influential factors that helped me make the transition between the leagues was the support and guidance of friends, family and colleagues and a mindset change. Each transition presented its own unique challenges and obstacles and the people I trusted became really important sounding boards for me. Whether I needed a confidence boost or advice on where to live, suppliers or local amenities, I relied on friends and family and those that had been there before and were willing to share their experiences.
Secondly , with each transition came a role and responsibility change. When I was asked to join our American League affiliate, I was unsure how this was going to help my career. I had already been in the NHL for 2 years and I couldn?t see advantages of this opportunity. I was wrong and the opportunity to be the head therapist at the AHL level was an invaluable education for me. I had to shift my mindset and accept the new challenge with confidence and a determination to do the best job possible.
I was entrusted with the responsibility of caring for these athletes by the NHL club and I had to be professional enough to do the best job I could for them. When I was asked to return to the NHL club in 2009 with yet another change in role and responsibilities, I also now had a family to think about. But with the support of family, friends and colleagues and my new found mindset, I took a leap of faith. You have to be willing to accept new challenges, always be willing to learn and have a goal of doing the most professional job you can.
PHATS: Very recently, you stepped into the Head Therapist position. What surprised you most about the new roll?
DN: Two facets of the job that have surprised me the most have been the pressure and stress associated with decision making process and the extent and depth of the communication that is involved. I didn?t realize the amount of time it actually takes to make sure everyone is on the same page when is comes to injuries. One of the biggest changes in the routine for me was the daily communication with the Head Coach and GM. It is definitely a juggling act keeping them informed while trying not to disrupt treatment times and the players routines. This time commitment I was fairly prepared for, but I didn?t realize there were many more people to be included.
There needed to be more time allotted to make sure the equipment side is kept informed as to who is practicing/playing or not. Team services needs to know who is traveling or not. Media relations has to be kept up to date for their releases. You have to be in constant communication with the strength and conditioning department as to the needs and/or restrictions of your injured. Then there is your own department.
My Assistant, Massage Therapist and Sports Medicine Director all need to be on the same page so treatment can be effective. Definitely no small task! The second surprise was the pressure associated with the decision making process as it pertains to the injured athlete. While some decisions are obviously cut and dry there are many that are not typical. I didn?t realize I would feel pressure in making treatment decisions or practice decisions until they were mine to make. Most of the time your decisions are not going to be popular with someone in the organization. This stress was new and is very real.
PHATS: What advances in your profession have been the most beneficial to you?
DN: Two of the advances in the our profession that have been most beneficial for me has been the advances in the emergency care standard and protocols and the increased use of manual therapy and exercise prescription in the treatment and prevention of athletic injury. It?s never been more evident to me then this year of how thorough our emergency care standards have become. It is a great comfort to know during games that we have the proper personal present do deal with critical situations should they arise. The 10 minute conversations we have before games to go over the EAP, physicians and paramedics checking in before and after games, emergency docs being present, the NHL red bags and the emergency care scenarios at the meetings have all been welcome improvements throughout the years.
The second advancement that has been most beneficial for me is the use of manual therapy and exercise based interventions with our athletes. Although there is a place in the toolbox for modalities, nothing can replace appropriate manual therapy, especially when reinforced with good exercise. Access to these courses are greater now then ever and I have been impressed that our association has included several of these types of courses in our meetings. Utilization of these techniques and the prescription of these corrective type exercises has really allowed the me to be proactive in the prevention of injuries and more complete when it comes to rehabilitation.
PHATS: What advances would you still like to see?
DN: One advance I would like see in our profession is the development of the directorial position on the sports medicine side. This position has become somewhat of a trend over the last few years and I think the AT is perfectly suited for the job. The requirements of today?s NHL are no longer realistically or effectively handled by one or two AT?s, especially when you consider our responsibilities are continually being extended. We are obviously entrusted with the well being of the NHL club, but we are also asked to help manage our injured athletes in the AHL, ECHL, and minor hockey associations. To this end, I have started to see the sports medicine teams grow and for the better. It allows all of these the responsibilities to be sensibly distributed and makes everyone more efficient and effective.
This can only benefit the NHL clubs and especially the athletes who will get the full attention they require.
PHATS: Social media is an ever-growing platform that shows no signs of slowing down. Having recently joined our social media committee, how do you think social media has affected the role of an Athletic Trainer?
DN:I am not sure if social media has affected our role as AT?s yet. It has provided a unique platform to expose what we do. Whether it be on your personal social media sites or that of your NHL team?s, many times our work behind the scenes gets a little more light. Sometimes the exposure may be unwanted, but if we are acting professionally within the context of our daily routines, hopefully it can serve to credit our brand. I think another way social media can affect your role as an AT is through education. When used properly the social media platforms can be used to stay on top of the latest research, treatment methods, strength and conditioning, and anatomy. Just be sure the sites, people and journals you are following are reputable. It provides a great way, especially in our busy schedule, to get a snap shot of athletic therapy/ training information quickly and make decisions on which information to look more in depth into.*
PHATS: What advice would you give to someone new to the profession as far as using social media?
DN: Jason Daffner legal counsel for PHATS-SPEM gave the social medial committee some recommendations to follow when using social media. First, choose your content/photos carefully. Stay away from controversial topics, medical topics or anything that may shine a negative light on PHATS-SPHEM, your team or league. Secondly, be mindful of tweets/retweets. They are considered an endorsement and carry the same weight as if you posted the original content. Lastly, do not post product endorsements. PHATS-SPHEM does not have agreements with partners under which PHATS-SPHEM endorse products. Really common sense is in order here. You are a representative of your club and you shouldn?t post anything that would embarrass or draw negative attention to your club.
PHATS: Who have been your mentors over the years and how have they inspired you?
DN: I have definitely had some great mentors throughout my career. While at York University, Gus Kandilas, Cindy Hughes and Frances Flint were invaluable teachers. They provided the perfect balance of guidance and freedom to immerse yourself in the field of Athletic Therapy, even as a student. They provided a great standard to live up to and I have never forgotten the lessons I learned there. Once I left school, I was very lucky to be introduced to and work with Gerry Townend. He taught me how to be a pro. His dedication to the craft of Athletic Therapy, commitment to the players and the club and his pursuit of excellence year after year was and is inspiring. We have worked together for a long time and I will forever be grateful for his example.
PHATS: What is something most members would not know about you?
DN: I love to cook, drink great wine and I am on a mission to find the perfect shot of espresso. If you don?t believe me, follow me on Instagram!
Dom was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario. He began his pro sports career with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Pro hockey life began as an assistant with the Ottawa Senators in 2002. In 2004, he become the head AT of their affiliate in Binghamton. He returned to Ottawa, as an assistant, in 2009 and in 2017 was promoted to Head Athletic Therapist. He currently lives in Kanata Ontario with his wife Jenny and their 2 kids Luca and Ella. He enjoys cooking for his family, drinking great wine, playing soccer in the summer and satisfying his espresso addiction.