PHATS Member Spotlight – Don DelNegro

Don DelNegro, Head Athletic Trainer, Boston Bruins

PHATS: Congratulations on 29 years working for the Boston Bruins as their Head Athletic Trainer!  After 29 seasons, what led to your decision to retire?

DD:   Well, like most decisions it was a culmination of events over the past 5 years. Organizational changes, the pandemic and all the stress that went along with the increased workload due to the protocols.  And obviously it is the fact that I have been an Athletic Trainer since 1985 and it was just time to move on to the next phase of life. 

PHATS: Looking back to when you started, what part of your career as an Athletic Trainer in professional hockey was the biggest surprise to you?

DD:   The hours, the days and the demand of working in professional sports.  Being on call 24/7, having to respond to things and process injuries to have answers as quickly as possible.  When I first started if a player sprained his knee, we would wait a week or so to get an MRI, now there are times I get an MRI on a player and the results are back before the game even ends.

PHATS:  Would you have done anything differently?

DD:   Absolutely not!  The last 29 years have been incredible.  As an Athletic Trainer everyone aspires to working in professional sports.  I had that opportunity, and I am so grateful for it.  Working with NHL players and all the other members of PHATS and SPHEM was what kept me doing it for all these years. We have a unique working environment that other professional sports do not. I would not have traded it for any other job.

PHATS:  29 years with one team is a rare and huge accomplishment!  What do you owe the longevity of your career there?

DD:   I was very lucky to have worked all 29 of those years with Keith Robinson.  He is one of best equipment managers in the league and so humble it’s incredible.  He helped so much in my first few years.  I am not sure I would have made it without him. When I first came in, I was alone on the road. We didn’t have assistants that traveled, strength coaches, or massage therapists.  Being on our own we had to do it all and Keith helped me navigate the way that it was done in the NHL. He helped shorten my learning curve.  Then as our staff grew over the years I always felt like we had a great team who really worked together for the success of the team.  We always put the players first and that is why I think I was able to last 29 years.

PHATS:  For those just starting out as athletic trainers, what is the best piece of advice you were given when you began your career?  

DD:   :  Listen to the people who are there or have been there already.  Professional hockey is a unique sport and has a different culture to it.  Don’t come in and try to change the culture.  Players have certain routines and a lot of them are very superstitious.  They do certain things because they believe it works.  Never make changes for the sake of change, do it because it is in the best interest of the player and the team.  I remember doing things that didn’t make any sense to me medically, but I did it because the player wanted it.  I figured if it wasn’t detrimental, why not, if it helped to make the player feel physically and psychologically prepared to play, I’d do it.

PHATS:  What is your favorite PHATS/SPHEM Conference memory?

DD:   I don’t really have one favorite memory. But my favorite part of our annual conference is always the Gatorade reception and the Awards Banquet.  I love the Gatorade reception for the opportunity to catch up with all the other trainers to talk and network.  It’s just a great time to meet up with old friends and to talk with the younger trainers in a more relaxed setting.  The Awards Banquet is fun because we always have so many laughs and great speakers. 

PHATS: While winning the Stanley Cup was no doubt one of the most exciting nights of your career, can you speak to some of the other highlights?

DD:   Yes, winning the Cup is number one.  I would have to say the next exciting night was when we beat Tampa Bay in game 7 in the Conference Finals that year. In my first 17 years I had never been out of the second round.  So just getting to the Stanley Cup Final was amazing to me.  My other favorite moment was versus Montreal in the first round that year.  We were down 2 nothing in the first 2 games at home and had to go up to Montreal for games 3&4.  We won game 3 in OT, and then had 2 days between games. The team went to Lake Placid (my home) for those 2 days to get away, rest and bond.  We won game 4, 5 and 7.  It was later joked around Lake Placid after we won the Cup that this was the “Second Miracle on Ice” for our town.  Imagine winning the Stanley Cup and your team actually practiced in your hometown for the first time ever.  What a great memory.

PHATS:  Do you have a professional mentor or Athletic Trainer you admire and why?

DD:   I have been around so long now most PHATS members wouldn’t know who I am speaking of.  But I would have to say Bob Behnke the Dept. Chair of Athletic Training at Indiana State was vital in my success.  He helped me get my first job at the U.S. Olympic Training Center back in 1986 and has always been there for me.  Kevin Moody then the Head Athletic Trainer at the USOTC was a huge mentor for me and still a great friend. Rich Pierce the Head Athletic Trainer at Westfield State guided me through my education process and pointed me in the right directions to help me get my Masters Degree.  And then obviously I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention all my friends from PHATS who have just been incredible to me along the way.  There is no doubt the relationships I have with all the PHATS trainers has had the most impact on my career and success.

PHATS: What will you miss most about working with the Boston Bruins?

DD:   The things I will miss the most is the everyday excitement on Game Days and the anticipation of the season.  How will we do? Who will we trade for, etc.?  Sitting around the “Hot Stove” every day with the staff and players.  I guess just being around the locker room and all the day-to-day stuff.  It’s funny as you get close to retiring you to tend remember all the good days and forget the bad days.  That’s probably just human nature?  I am certainly going to miss visiting all the NHL cities and going out for dinner, or just walking around town.  The one thing I know I will miss the most is not seeing and spending time with the other trainers and catching up before the game or at the practice rink. 

PHATS:  What do you have planned after your retirement from the Boston Bruins?

DD:   Right now, my plan is to move up to my house in Lake Placid, NY and enjoy time with my family. I don’t have any plans to work just yet.  I hope to work on my golf game, travel with my wife and just slow down a bit.  If I do work, I think I will keep it simple and not commit to a full-time. If I was going to do that I’d just keep working in the NHL.

Tell us about yourself, your family, and your hobbies.

I have been happily and luckily married to my wife Claire for 31 years and have a beautiful daughter Renee who is 24.  She just graduated from Syracuse in 2020 and is now working in New York City for a Public Relations firm.  My wife Claire is the Vice President of the International Federation for the Olympic sport of Luge.  She was an Olympic Luge athlete at Sarajevo Olympics in 1984 and has worked at every Olympics since then except the 1998 games in Nagano Japan.  She may be one of the few people I know that travels more than we do in the NHL!!

I have a few hobbies:  Golf is probably my favorite.  I am amazingly bad for the amount I play, but I do plan on working hard on improving.  Drumming is my next favorite hobby.  There is nothing better on a bad day then coming home and just beating the skins off the drum set.  It is the best way to unwind, relax and forget about the nonsense. And finally, I create objects using deer and elk antlers.  I like to make wine bottle holders, corkscrews, bottle openers, centerpiece candle holders, antler lamps, etc.

All photos courtesy of Don DelNegro

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