Athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn plays a key role in the health and fitness of the Kelowna Rockets.

Athletic therapist Thorburn ‘pulse’ of team

With 20 games to play over the final 36 days of the regular season, the Kelowna Rockets endurance—both physical and mental—will be put to a staunch test.

How well the players are able cope with the rigors of their most demanding stretch of hockey this season will, in all likelihood, determine where the Rockets finish in the B.C. Division standings.

No one knows the importance of a healthy and well-rested team better than athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn who will be keeping a close eye on Rockets players as the final five weeks of the season unfolds.

Rest and proper nutrition are particularly important on the road where Kelowna will play eight of its next 11 games.

“The health and well-being of the players is crucial,” said Thorburn, now in his fifth season with the Rockets. “Their recovery and energy levels are both very important to their output, game in and game out. We just have to give them reminders about good nutrition, good hydration habits, and getting rest when they have a chance is also very important. Our staff does a great job of making sure the guys are fed properly and nourished. Their performance depends on all those things.”

While monitoring the daily habits of the team is a vital part of Thorburn’s duties, his most important role is the rehabilitation of injured players and getting them back in the lineup as quickly as possible without risking their long-term health.

Thorburn is hoping he won’t be a busy man in the medical room in the coming months but if he is, the Rockets are secure in the knowledge that the players are in good hands.

“Jeff’s very good at rehab, he has a good read and a good understanding of the body,” said Rockets head coach Ryan Huska. “He’s very detailed and it shows in his work. A lot of times, Jeff gets our players back on the ice sooner than you’d expect.”

Thorburn was never busier at the trainer’s table than last season when a continual procession of Rockets—as many as nine injured players at a time—required some form of treatment.

Much to Thorburn’s relief, the 2010-11 campaign has been nowhere as hectic.

“Last year was challenging for the team as a whole, the medical room was far busier than anyone wanted,” he said. “It’s just a matter of managing your time and making sure each and every player is doing what they need to do to get better in the appropriate time. This year, overall, knock on wood, has been better. You always have injuries to deal with, but at this point we’re in pretty good shape coming down the stretch.”

Still, his role with the Rockets isn’t limited to just technical needs such as rehab, nutrition, conditioning programs, or equipment work.

The 36-year-old Thorburn works closely with the players on a day-to-day basis and as a result serves as a form of intermediary between the players and the coaching staff.

“Jeff’s the pulse of the team,” said Huska. “The players trust him, they’re open with him…the best relationship on the team is between Jeff and the players. It’s a fine line for him, he’s a friend to the players while also having to be a bit firm with them when needed.

“A lot of times Jeff has a good idea of the energy level of our team,” added Huska, “so he can come to us and let us know whether we should push, or if we should back off the level of intensity. He’s a valuable guy for the coaching staff and the team in general.”

As for coming to work each day as the Rockets athletic therapist, Thorburn said he enjoys the atmosphere surrounding a major junior hockey team and working in the field of high performance athletics—not to mention his fascination with the dynamics of the human body.

“It is fascinating to me to be honest with you, both from a performance point of view and from a mechanics point of view, as well as an injury and a healing and a rehabilitation process. The body’s an amazing machine and it’s an interesting study for me.”

Rocket Shots…The Rockets (30-22-0-0) will play three games in three nights this weekend, starting with the Chilliwack Bruins Friday at Prospera Place. Kelowna will visit Chilliwack on Saturday, then will travel to Everett to play the Silvertips on Sunday.

whenderson@kelownacapnews.com