By Rick Woelfel
He is one of hockey’s unsung heroes. Whether he is working for the Philadelphia Flyers or covering an Atlantic Prep Athletic Conference game for La Salle, Sal Raffa is always on alert when he’s at an ice rink.
After more than two decades as an athletic trainer, Raffa is well aware of the risks that accompany the game of hockey, and cognizant of his responsibility to minimize those risks. When he’s on duty, very little happens on or around the ice that escapes his detection.
“You look for body language for one,” he said. “Whether it be a puck to the foot or hand, or writs, or elbow.
“You’re looking for body language. Typically, it’s body reaction. If you get hit in the throat, your hands automatically go to your throat.
“A lot of times, you look for the environmental stuff, meaning external, like the boards and things like that. A lot of times, if you’re not paying attention and I’ve seen it in my career, athletes will leave a door open for instance to the bench; you can impale a vital organ.”
Just as athletes must (or should) understand basic fundamentals of their sport, so it is for trainers. Raffa never takes that fundamental knowledge for granted.
“Every night, before I cover an event, I go through a process in my head even on the bench I remember the ABCs, (airways, breathing, circulation)” he said. “On the bench I’m looking and watching everything. You don’t know really what’s going to happen but the ABCs, just know that, and kind of practice that when you’re out of this environment, when you’re at home, and just practice, practice, practice.”
Raffa’s vigilance, and that of his colleagues, is particularly important at the high-school level.
“Myself and the other trainers, we’re the only medical professionals here,” Raffa points out. “Typically for a professional hockey game, you have physicians, you have an emergency room physician, you have paramedics, you have surgeons, you have everybody. “For (a high-school game) you’re going on your instincts, you’re looking for something that’s going on. The best thing you can do is rely on what you learn and what you know.”
‘What you know’ in Raffa’s case encompasses a broad knowledge base acquired through his years in the profession. When he staffs an event, his medical kit will contain everything from an AED to tourniquets to QuikClot® so he’s prepared in the event of an emergency.
“I have a whole bunch of stuff like that,” Raffa said. “You’re relying on your instincts, you’re holding pressure, calling 9-11.”
One of trainer’s most important attributes is the ability to control his or her emotions in an emergency.
“You gave to remain calm if a kid is choking,” Raffa says. “The worst thing you want to do is freak out. Calm cool collected.
“Same thing on the ice. You see blood, Okay. It’s blood. Control the situation as best as you can. The environment is not a controlled situation because you’re (in a rink) but you can control it as best as you can.”
Raffa stresses the importance of knowing the emergency action plan of each rink he works in, whether be Hatfield Ice Arena, the Wells Fargo Center, or elsewhere. something he says all trainers should do.
“Before you work any events know what you’re dealing with,” he said. “Know where you’re going, and know the surroundings. Know 911, the paramedic’s number, know the closest hospital know all that stuff. You should know that before you cover any event.”