NHL Head Athletic Trainer shares the solution to hydration challenges even in the cold of the hockey rink

NHL Head Athletic Trainer shares the solution to hydration challenges even in the cold of the hockey rink

Like any hockey player growing up in the Detroit area, Piet Van Zant dreamed of playing with the National Hockey League (NHL) Detroit Red Wings. An injury that sidelined him in high school put him on a career path that led to the Red Wings organization more 20 years ago. He’s now the Head Athletic Trainer.Piet Van Zant

“You want to play for your hometown team,” says Van Zant, who was introduced to athletic training after his injury. “Once I started in the program, it was definitely something I knew I wanted to do as a career.”

After he graduated from Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training in 1993, Van Zant went to work for the minor league Adirondack Red Wings. After six years, he was added to the Detroit Red Wings medical staff as an Assistant Trainer, and he became Head Trainer in 2002. He earned a master’s degree in Performance Enhancement in 2004 just as emphasis on sports training and nutrition was accelerating.

Boosting health, safety, and performance

“Over the years, it’s definitely become a more evidence-based practice for athletic trainers and anybody in the medical field when it comes to pro sports and pro athletes,” Van Zant says. “You need to have research and proof that your treatments and your therapies you’re doing with athletes actually work.”

Red Wings HockeySince Van Zant joined the Red Wings, the organization has added a nutritionist, strength coach, a physical therapist, and two massage therapists, with access for players to acupuncture, chiropractic, and other strategies to boost their health, safety, and performance. The Nutritionist introduced him to The Right Stuff a few years ago.

Hydration is imperative in sports like hockey

“It started with a couple of problem players, and it’s evolved to a preventive strategy for multiple players,” he says. “Hydration is imperative in sports like hockey where you’re wearing equipment that weighs you down, that increases the heat. Your body’s not able to dissipate that heat as well as if you were in shorts and a t-shirt.”

Despite an environment cold enough to keep the rink frozen, Hi Res Hockey Goalie croppedthe intensity and length of hockey events – some 3½ hours – in heavy equipment can cause sweating that disrupts sodium and electrolyte balance. In one extreme case, Van Zant say, a goalie lost 15 pounds in a single game.

Just plain water over that time frame isn’t going to cut it,” he says. “It is crucial to maintain that balance. The Right Stuff helps us do that.”

Pro Hockey (AHL) Athletic Trainer Saves “Heavy-Sweater” Goalie from Dehydration Symptoms

kevin-kacerKevin Kacer chose to attend Indiana Central University, now the University of Indianapolis, because he figured he’d get more experience as a student athletic trainer at the small school. He was right.

“I was the only student trainer there my freshman year,” says Kacer, who had seen programs with dozens of students at Purdue University and Indiana University. “It was a small Division 2 school. I knew I would get a lot of experience early in my collegiate career. I was traveling with the football team, I had the baseball team, I did wrestling and basketball.

I wanted to be an athletic trainer

“I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to be an athletic trainer,” he says, adding that his high school coach and athletic director sent him to summer camps for trainers. “I played sports growing up. I came to that realization that I wasn’t going to go much further playing sports, but I liked it and I liked helping people.”

Kacer earned his degree in physical education and, with his extensive experience, passed a national exam to become an athletic traChicago Wolves Logo croppediner. The head athletic trainer at the university, who had moved to Fort Wayne and opened a sports medicine clinic, helped Kacer get a job with the Fort Wayne Flames pro indoor soccer team. After two years, he moved to the Fort Wayne Komets of the International Hockey League, then the Fort Wayne Fury of the Continental Basketball Association. After two years as an assistant trainer with the Detroit Pistons, Kacer moved in 1995 to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, where he is head athletic trainer.

“I have everything to do with the health and safety of the players,” he says. “I manage all of their injuries. I’m the guy that takes care of their first aid needs, emergency needs. I’m that first responder when something happens to one of our players. Their health and safety is my No. 1 concern. I’m doing what I wanted to do.” Kacer is a member of the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society (PHATS) , National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

I’ve grown to use The Right Stuff for a lot more of my guys that are chronic sweaters.

A few years ago, he suggested The Right Stuff to a goalie who is a heavy sweater. “And, now he uses it religiously,” Kacer says. “He loses a lot of water weight both in practice and in games. It became a problem with him, getting dehydrated and losing that edge.  (Editor’s Note: Studies show hockey players are some of the heaviest sweaters among team sports athletes; e.g., 3+ L/game) .  I’ve grown to use The Right Stuff for a lot more of my guys that are chronic sweaters. They get overheated and lose that edge. It’s a very, very physical, demanding sport. Our games are usually two plus hours. It’s a pretty good aerobic sport.  The Right Stuff has been helping our team for a few years now!”