(Article written by Jamie Neugebauer)
Every time a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey Leaguer hops on the ice he is either consciously or subconsciously aware that the first line of defence for his physical safety is in the hands of a terrific athletic therapist.
In the case of the Nipawin Hawks, and their do-it-all medic and equipment manager Emma Galloway, those hands are easily some of the best in the province.
“Emma means everything and more to our team,” says Hawks’ assistant captain Braxton Buckberger.
“I have been here for three years and have nothing but great things to say about her. She would be among Canada’s best trainers, and we are more than lucky to have her every day. We as players value her knowledge and experience when it comes to dealing with any injury or needs we have, and not only is she our athletic therapist, but she is a great friend who has lots of advice that helps us players become better people and teammates.”
Originally a native of Trenton, ONT., Galloway is essentially an honourary Nipawinian, as she is in her 11th season with the town’s beloved Hawks, and runs a first-class practice in the ‘Town of Two Lakes’ called “Galloway Athletic Therapy”.
She had been working for the Greater Ontario Junior ‘B’ Hockey League’s Cambridge Winterhawks in the early 2010s while finishing up her studies in Applied Sciences and Athletic Therapy, but upon completion thereof, she was given a tip from a friend that there were opportunities in the SJHL.
First and foremost a passionate hockey fan from her youth, Emma jumped when the possibility to go work for the Hawks came up.
“It’s something that when I was a kid, I would bug my parents all the time to let me go play hockey,” she says, “and eventually I did.
“(Athletic therapy) was just a way for me to keep myself in the sport. I liked the aspect of working with these athletes in the sense that I still get to be involved in games. (I started to realize that I appreciated that) as the therapist I got to see the players from the moment their injury happens till they return to play, so it’s kind of rewarding when you see an athlete through that whole process.
“The SJHL is a high level of hockey,” she continues, “so it makes the whole aspect of it more competitive than the lower levels, and there is more job availability in the junior game to contribute to making a living in this line of work.”
Emma’s career took a turn in April of 2018 as her Hawks were facing the Broncos in the second round of the SJHL playoffs when the Humboldt Bus Crash occurred.
All of a sudden, she had to realize her job was not just medical; she had to be there for her players in ways she had not anticipated when she started in the field.
“That season in particular was very tough with the accident,” she says.
“We all had to battle through, and then you’re right back on the bus (for the final series against Estevan), and you’re trying to help players cope and deal through that. It was big, and obviously, I cherish the memory of winning Game 7 of the final at home and the atmosphere of ‘the Cage’ (Nipawin’s home rink, Centennial Arena), and how loud it was. It made all the struggle and challenges worthwhile because we all had that goal, from players to coaching staff to medical staff, and the way it all went that year specifically was rewarding, but also an incredible grind.”
Her passion for the players on her team is obvious with a glance at the Hawks’ bench during a game. Like Tad Kozun, the club’s head coach and general manager, the rest of the staff, and all of the young men who wear the jersey, she desperately wants to win every night and do her part to bring a championship back to Nipawin.
Her intensity to do so is never lost on Kozun, who was a 20-year-old high-flying scorer for the Hawks when she first got the job.
“She’s one of those people that just has that competitive drive in her,” he says, “and she wants to win as badly as anybody.
“We’ve been together a lot of years, and she’s learned a lot about the game of hockey over the 11 years that she’s been involved here now. She knows what this team means to the town as well, and it’s pretty cool being able to sit over there and see how involved she is and how much she really cares about the whole team.”
That drive comes through in the intensity of the moment on game day, but perhaps even more so when the rink is much quieter, and the many tasks of the therapist and equipment manager are far away from the bright lights.
Emma cares to be there for her team as a servant, and as a very serious leader on the club’s path to growing the players as men first and foremost.
“A lot of people ask me about whether I have kids and I say ‘Well, I deal with 25 kids daily’,” she says with a laugh.
“Sometimes I feel like a mom in a sense because they are away from their families for the most part, and sometimes I do have to teach them a simple skill like how to turn on a vacuum or whatever. I would say I am very strict with how I like their dressing room to be, and I remind them that it’s a simple thing to clean up after themselves and those sorts of things. They will definitely come to me for advice on different things, but I can also laugh and joke around and have fun with them, but there is respect there for sure and as I get a little older, I do feel like I have a bit of a motherly role with them.”
Galloway mentions that she has also had to adjust her practices over the years as the players are more aware of the mental health aspect of the game, so she has had to be more aware of body language, demeanour, and the holistic perspective of their well-being. She notes that the way they view their world not only “affects their play, but it affects how quickly they return from injury, how they deal with being injured in the first place”. That they are also less afraid to speak up about their mental health struggles is a positive, but is very different from how things were when she started.
Emma’s high level of effectiveness has been noticed outside of the league, as she has had numerous opportunities to represent Saskatchewan Hockey, including with the U16 provincial boys at the WHL Cup, and with the U18 silver-medal-winning girls at the last Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island.
There is no doubt that it is an understatement to say Kozun is proud to have Galloway on the bench beside him.
“Emma means everything to this club,” he says.
“(We all) appreciate everything she does for this town and community. She’s as professional as they come and has earned every opportunity she keeps getting. I truly believe she’s one of the best out there and she probably deserves to move up the ranks and I think one day it’s definitely going to come for her, and then we’ll definitely be thankful for everything she did.”
Galloway’s next Team Saskatchewan experience will be at the 2023 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Dawson Creek, B.C. Nov. 5-11, and she is right at the top of the many incredible therapists, trainers, and equipment managers that help make the SJHL the elite junior experience that it is.