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Kenn Oliver
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Carbonear's Joey Garland finds hockey niche as Windsor Spitfires' athletic therapist

Joey Garland has always been a fan of hockey, but never a hockey player.

But the Carbonear native is a Memorial Cup champion, poised for a second straight Canadian junior hockey championship.

The 29-year-old didn't earn his championship prize with his own blood, sweat and tears. Rather, it was through tending to someone else's injuries.

After being part of the Windsor Spitfires 2009 Memorial Cup winning team, Carbonears Joey Garland was allowed to take the coveted trophy home last summer. A year later, Garland and the Spitfires now have a chance to win their second straight Memorial Cup

Joey Garland has always been a fan of hockey, but never a hockey player.

But the Carbonear native is a Memorial Cup champion, poised for a second straight Canadian junior hockey championship.

The 29-year-old didn't earn his championship prize with his own blood, sweat and tears. Rather, it was through tending to someone else's injuries.

For the past four years, Garland has been employed as the athletic therapist for the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires, reigning Memorial Cup champs who will play for a second straight title Sunday.

When a Spitfire goes down during the game, Garland is the man in blue gloves darting across the ice. More than that, he's the person responsible for injury rehab, is an assistant to the team's doctor and even plays Dad, making sick calls to schools on behalf of players.

"Every day is different," Garland said from Brandon, Man., where the Spitfires await their opponent in Sunday's final. "The type of injuries are so varied. It could be anything from a shoulder injury to someone needing 10 stitches."

Come playoff time, however, while there's less team practices and less work overall, the intensity ratchets up a notch or two.

"Injuries that might keep guys out for two weeks in the regular season, are now playing the next day. You're doing two and three treatments a day and there's all sorts of psychological therapy on them to let them know they're all right to play and that they won't hurt themselves further."

In Garland's Carbonear Collegiate high school yearbook, athletic therapist is listed as his dream ambition. But he admits he never expected it to be in hockey, but insists he, "couldn't imagine doing anything different now."

After completing a degree in kinesiology at Dalhousie University, Garland enrolled in Sheridan College's athletic therapy prpgram. At both schools, he volunteered his services to the basketball programs before being hired on by the Spitfires organization.

He signed a three-year contract extension last year that will keep him in Windsor through the 2011-12 season.

And while Garland remains a constant on the Spitfires' bench, the same can't be said of the roster. Each year he sees players, "moving on to bigger and better things" and admits it's, "hard to see them go sometimes."

That said, the experience of working in a professional hockey breeding ground isn't lost on him.

"It's a really special experience, especially now that I've been here for five years. There are kids I've worked with and trained and who have come to me for advice who are now in the NHL," said Garland, referring to the New York Islanders' Josh Bailey and Mike Weber, who plays for the Portland Pirates, the Buffalo Sabres' farm club.

"You see them follow that advice and going on and being successful and you feel like you're a small part of the success they're having.

"It's going to be neat sitting down with my kids and grandkids and talking about players who maybe by then are in the Hall of Fame. I can only imagine in 10 or 15 years when I've got 10 or 15 more guys I know at that level."

One player Garland will be especially proud to have worked with, and who he intends to watch closely once he says goodbye to major junior once the season wraps is Spitfires star Taylor Hall, who is expected to be one of the top two picks in the NHL Draft next month.

"He's been an OHL and Memorial Cup MVP and he could very well be one his way to another as the leading scorer. At world juniors as an underage player, he dominated the play. He's already got above NHL skill and speed and his maturity level is phenomenal," Garland said of Hall.

Like players eager to make the jump to the next level, Garland too is eyeing the pro scene as his next destination, be it the AHL or NHL.

"It's not impossible," he contends. "There are opportunities. There's always guys leaving and guys who want to focus on family.

"By staying in junior, with all of our guys going to different teams, they might put in a good word for you. And our GM (Bob Boughner) is good friends with a lot of the coaches who are getting hired up there now."

Garland has helped his own cause by making contacts throughout the CHL, offering his services to Hockey Canada - though the call to serve hasn't yet come - and serving as the athletic therapist for Bobby Orr's team at this year's Top Prospects game.

And being part of a winning club doesn't hurt either.

"It goes for coaches, players and any personnel attached to a team; if you're on a proven winner, you know what it's like to have guys do whatever it takes.

"Teams want to bring in winners, even if you're a winner on a junior level as a therapist, it doesn't go unnoticed."

Garland isn't the only Newfoundlander working as an athletic therapist within the Canadian Hockey League. Mount Pearl's Brian Cheeseman is the Tri-City Americans' athetic therapist in the Western Hockey League.

koliver@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Sheridan College, Ontario Hockey League, NHL Dalhousie University Spitfires organization New York Islanders Portland Pirates Canadian Hockey League Buffalo Sabres Western Hockey League

Geographic location: Carbonear, Brandon, Mount Pearl Tri-City

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