September 27th, 2012

Ivan Gutfriend's Name is 'Synonomous with Athletic Theapy in Saskatchewan'

By Jonathan Hamelin, Leader-Post September 27, 2012

For 35 seasons and 720 games, Gutfriend has been with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Former Saskatchewan Roughriders centre Jeremy O'Day had an important rule when dealing with an injury.

"Whatever Ivan [Gutfriend] told me to do in rehab, I would make sure that I do it religiously. It seemed to work for me," said O'Day, now the Riders' assistant general manager, who suffered three medial collateral ligament injuries during his career. "For a player, he's awesome."

That was a good rule to have.

Gutfriend, the Riders' director of athletic therapy, has been a part of the organization for 35 seasons and 720 regular-season games. Gutfriend's 700th game was when the Green and White trounced the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 45-23 in the Banjo Bowl last season.

"He's been around for so long and he's seen everything that can happen to a football team, so he's very resourceful," O'Day said. "I think that he's just a tremendous resource for all our players."

"It's amazing that he's been here for that many games. I know he's been around for a long time, but he still brings a lot of excitement and energy to our locker room."

"He's got a tremendous memory for players," said Alex Smith, Riders linebackers coach and assistant to the head coach. "A lot of players that played here keep in touch with him. Players really respect him and like him, and he deals with them on a really professional basis. He's good to them."

"All of the coaches trust his opinion, too, on whether players can play or not play. He doesn't tend to baby them. He keeps up on all the current medical stuff and does an outstanding job as a trainer."

"I think he's probably one of the top trainers in the CFL."

Gutfriend noted that he "never really gave much thought" to his longevity with the Roughriders until Gene Makowsky, former Riders offensive lineman, played in his 272nd game last season, breaking the record of Roger Aldag, another former Roughrider offensive lineman. There was a lot media of coverage surrounding Makowsky.

"I said, 'Well, that's nothing compared to 700 games,' " Gutfriend said with a laugh. "It started off as more of a tease than anything."

But soon, it caused Gutfriend to reflect on his long career.

"I would've never dreamt that it would've been this long. I've really enjoyed myself and I still do, and that's probably why I'm still doing this right now," said Gutfriend.

"There are a lot of great people in this organization, and this community has been phenomenal. As harsh as they may be on us and the quarterback at times, this is a fan base and this is a province that dearly loves their team and they follow their team, and we are really appreciative of all the things the fans have done for us."

"It's great playing in front of the stands, and, when you go to any other city in Canada, it's amazing how many people speak well of the fans in Saskatchewan. I think the organization and the players certainly appreciate that."

Gutfriend first got involved with the Riders in 1970. While going to school at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), Gutfriend helped then-Rider head trainer Sandy Archer at Rider training camp. "Going to that training camp and some training camps after really made me want to do this as a career," Gutfriend said.

From 1978 to 1980, Gutfriend shared duties with Archer, who was recovering from a heart attack. Gutfriend took over in 1981 and hasn't left the organization since.

"Interestingly enough, I had a chance to go to Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton earlier in my career in the same role, but I decided to stay here because I had a young family at the time," Gutfriend said. "My kids are long gone now and my wife is retired from teaching, but we're still here."

According to Gutfriend, his job is to "first and foremost, oversee that all athletes are taken care of from a health and medical aspect." The field of sports medicine is always changing, so he has to keep up to date to help provide athletes with the best care.

His job also involves a balancing act between the players and management.

"You have to deal with players fairly and you have to deal with management fairly. You're on the fence," Gutfriend said. "You're working for the organization, but at the same time, you're responsible for the health and welfare of the players. Management and the players have been very supportive of what I've done."

Sometimes, however, there simply isn't anything Gutfriend and the team's medical staff can do for an athlete. Matt Dominguez, former receiver for Saskatchewan, battled through three knees injuries. Largely because of these injuries, the Riders decided to part ways with Dominguez after the 2008 season. Dominguez was 30 years old at the time.

"Sometimes, players have injuries that they just can't overcome, no matter what they do," Gutfriend said.

"Usually, that happens with a very significant injury, but that also happens towards the end of players' careers when they do have significant injuries, because a lot of the times, there are a lot of injuries that piled up on the individual during his career, and, certainly as they become older, the injuries are more predominant.”

"Because their lifespan isn't that long, when a player gets to the end, it's just one of those things where they feel that maybe this is the time to go."

"It's hard to give the news to a certain extent, but at the same time, players in this day and age understand that, no matter what the case, once you get to your early 30s, you know your time is coming to an end. That's just life."

While dealing with career-ending injuries is obviously a tougher part of Gutfriend's job, the friendships forged with the athletes is a benefit.

"To be quite honest, the friendships are probably the reason why I'm still in this business. I really enjoy dealing with players on a personal level," he said. "It's not just about wins and losses and getting healthy."

"We joke around. We tease each other - all those kind of things."

According to O'Day, the players enjoy Gutfriend's friendship, too.

"Everyone loves Ivan, and he treats everyone fairly," O'Day said. "There is not a guy in the locker room who doesn't like him as a person. Obviously, he's their trainer, but they value him greatly for the person that he is.”

"It's always great to go back to the training room when the team's gone and listen to him playing his old music that he listens to. He's got a couple of radio stations. He likes to listen to the classics.”

"In the same token, I'm sure the players keep him young with all the new rap music that is always played in there. He probably knows all the new music from the past 20 or 30 years," O'Day continued with a laugh.

Gutfriend's friendships extend beyond the players. At Rider practice, it's common to see Smith and him joking back and forth.

"Alex and I get along quite well," Gutfriend said. "We sort of bug and tease each other all the time. Obviously, when you have coaches that have been around that long, you understand them and you develop a friendship and understanding. They know me like the back of their hands and I know them like the back of my hand."

"We have a good, friendly relationship," Smith said. "He's always bugging me about my age and I'm always bugging him about his age. We both shop here at Colin O'Brian and Regina. We're always bugging each other about the clothing we're wearing."

During Gutfriend's long career with the Roughriders, he has left an impact on more than just the Roughrider organization.

Gutfriend, who received an undergraduate degree from the U of S and completed a master's degree in athletic training from Indiana University, taught for about 17 years in the sports medicine field at the University of Regina."

"Ivan's name is synonymous with athletic therapy in Saskatchewan," said Trevor Len, registrar for the Saskatchewan Athletic Therapists Association. "You look at just the name alone; he's known across Canada."

"Anybody that you talk to - especially students coming up - they all know Ivan. There's the Riders and there's Ivan. You look at the number of therapists that have come to the province in the time that he's been involved with the club - yet he's still here."

Len, who did his fieldwork under Gutfriend for his kinesiology degree, said "he's very helpful."

"I think people tend to gravitate towards him," Len said. "They know that his knowledge, his past experiences, his education - you can only learn from them. He's old enough to be my dad, so for me he's like a second father figure. As a person, he's very outgoing."

"He has really given back. He's getting near the end of his career, now, so I think he's focusing on his job, but he's really helped pass the torch on to us younger guys and girls."

Indeed, Gutfriend feels his storied career with the Riders will soon come to an end. From the glory of the 1989 and 2007 Grey Cup victories to the agony of The 13th Man, Gutfriend has made plenty of memories.

"If you are in professional sports long enough, you see things happen that you've never seen happen before," Gutfriend said. "You can be in the sport a long time, but there is always something different that you haven't seen happen."

Riders middle linebacker Mike McCullough will be quite emotional when Gutfriend decides to call it a career.

"I think he should've retired years ago," McCullough said jokingly. "Ivan's a great guy and it's great having him here. I've been with him for 10 years and we get on each other, but he's a great guy to have around, for sure."

"Ivan is like the crazy old neighbour you just love to be around."

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