Hockey 911 event to highlight medical advances made in NHL bubbles

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Keynote participants for this second annual event, themed “Playoff Emergencies,” include Montreal Canadiens medical director Dr. David Mulder, coach Claude Julien, associate coach Kirk Muller, defenseman Shea Weber and forwards Brendan Gallagher and Nick Suzuki, as well as Dr. Winne Meeuwisse, the NHL chief medical officer who headed an extensive team of health care professionals to ensure the safety of all in the bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

Featured among the shared stories will be the call that Mulder took at home in Montreal at 4 a.m. Aug. 13 from Graham Rynbend, the Canadiens head athletic therapist, who was phoning from the team’s playoff hotel in Toronto.

Julien was experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath in the overnight hours following Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Philadelphia Flyers. Mulder, who joined the Montreal organization in 1963 as an assistant to Dr. Doug Kinnear with the Junior Canadiens, instantly set to work nearly 350 miles east of the Eastern Conference bubble.


Canadiens coach Claude Julien (right) with associate coach Kirk Muller during Game 1 of Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round in Toronto. Hours later, Julien was rushed to a Toronto hospital with chest pains.

Rynbend swiftly arranged to have Julien transported to Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. Mulder soon would be on the phone to the Toronto home of Dr. David Latter, a cardiac surgeon at St. Michael’s who studied and trained under Mulder at Montreal’s McGill University.

Julien was whisked into the cardiac cath lab of St. Michael’s and in the surgical care of Latter. Observing in the lab, by way of a Zoom video hookup from his home, was Mulder, a world-renowned specialist in trauma care who today is a professor of surgery at McGill and the senior surgeon in the thoracic and upper gastrointestinal surgery division of the McGill University Health Centre.

The Canadiens coach had an exploratory angiogram, which showed a major blockage in a cardiac artery. That procedure was followed by angioplasty, during which the blockage was cleared, and a stent was placed to keep the artery open. 

“It was an unbelievable experience for me,” Mulder said last week. “I could see the stent going in and the blood flow restored. The ability of modern technology is absolutely amazing. It was an incredible time, to be in the cath lab with one of my students.”

Julien’s health was the primary concern, of course, but he and everyone else knew that a trip to the hospital almost surely would end his ability to coach in the playoffs.


The NHL’s playoff bubble was tightly controlled in Edmonton, seen here, and in Toronto.

“Normally an episode of chest pain like Claude sustained would result in a quick transfer to the closest emergency room for evaluation,” Mulder said. “But in this case, going to the hospital meant his leaving the bubble. This explains the initial concern of moving Claude to hospital that night.”

Muller took over behind the bench for the balance of the playoffs and the Canadiens were eliminated by the Flyers in six games.

Julien’s dramatic experience was one of the remarkable behind-the-scenes stories during the NHL playoffs. With many others, it will be discussed during this conference that will benefit the Montreal General Hospital Foundation. Registration with interactive participation is free, though donations will be welcome.

The inaugural Hockey 911 in 2019 was themed as a salute to the Montreal General medical community that for many decades has cared for the Canadiens and their families. It drew a sellout crowd of 450 at Montreal’s Bell Centre for an evening of storytelling by former Canadiens players Serge Savard, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Chris Nilan, Trent McCleary, Hockey Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, Mulder and fellow Montreal General doctors.

Like many events during the coronavirus pandemic, it seemed that the second edition of Hockey 911 would be cancelled. But in September, Quebec entertainer and conference facilitator Gregory Charles, a hospital foundation ambassador, staged a virtual, interactive event on mental health as it relates to youth and young adults. Attended by a couple thousand participants, the successful fundraiser proved that such a virtual format could work.


Dr. Winne Meeuwisse, the NHL’s chief medical officer (left) and Dr. David Mulder, the Montreal Canadiens’ medical director.

“Last year’s Hockey 911 was a huge success for us,” Mulder said. “The feedback was incredible from all constituents — a guy like Scotty Bowman calling later to say how much it meant to him. Getting all these people together was mutually satisfying and it raised $400,000 for the hospital, which was very important. So we decided we’d try the virtual event this year.” 

Hockey 911 will again feature a warmup, three periods and overtime, with interviews conducted during intermissions and a chat room open to those attending. Sponsors have once more rallied to the cause, organizers working without “gate receipts” this year.

Though Julien is moving forward, in robust health, he told Mulder that he’d be happy to look back on his playoff experience in the hope it might help others.

The coach’s health wasn’t the only challenge for Mulder and the Canadiens heading into and during the playoffs. There were a few positive COVID-19 tests as training camp got underway in Montreal, defenseman Christian Folin was dealing with a knee injury in the Toronto bubble that ultimately would require surgery and Gallagher had his jaw broken by a high stick near the end of Game 5 against the Flyers. 

The NHL conducted 33,174 COVID-19 tests over nine weeks in the bubbles without a single positive result.

“When you look at what the NHL did, it’s pretty impressive,” Mulder said. “They got the Stanley Cup awarded, which really was an enormous feat, everything evolving day by day with very careful precautions. The whole program, and the support the League gave each team, was above and beyond.”


Canadiens captain Shea Weber (left) and Brendan Gallagher will participate in this year’s Hockey 911 conference.

Mulder and the Canadiens doctors worked from a distance, given the realities of the coronavirus. A two-week quarantine would be required before going into the Toronto bubble, away from their hospital base and the team, and another two weeks once they got home. So it made better sense to work remotely from Montreal, which offered unique challenges.

Mulder praised the cooperation of Dr. Noah Forman, the Toronto Maple Leafs medical director. Innovative ground was broken with a telemedicine system that gave the Canadiens medical team around-the-clock availability to and communication with staff and players, “which was a tour de force.”

“The NHL set up a medical system which was second to none,” Mulder said. “We’ll tell stories during Hockey 911 about how we could take somebody for hospital tests without their losing bubble status, which was a real triumph. There was a mechanism to protect people to go out and get X-rays or go for a neuropsychological test for a possible concussion. All of these things were set up so the players wouldn’t have to leave the bubble. It was absolutely amazing. 

“We often had a Zoom call that went on for 30, 40 minutes after each game and between games we had virtual meetings with players. We even did the Canadiens medical exit interviews by Zoom from Toronto (at the end of the playoffs). It was quite something. These are things that we’ll discuss in Hockey 911. It’s important for the public to learn the extent that the NHL went to. It was an incredible success story.”

Hockey 911 on Nov. 17 begins virtually with a 6:30 p.m. ET warmup, then three periods and overtime beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Register here: https://www.mghfoundation.com/en/events/hockey-911-2020-edition/

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