The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are underway. Though the opening ceremony will air on tape delay on Friday night, the Games have already begun. There are 15 events that take place at the Winter Games, and though it depends on whom you ask, men's ice hockey is one of the marquee events. For the 2014 Games, 149 NHL players are making the trip to Sochi to represent their countries of origin. All 32 NHL clubs will be represented, as will one NFL team.
The Philadelphia Eagles.
No, you won't be seeing Nick Foles or Brandon Boykin lace up the skates any time soon, but two members of the Eagles medical staff will be tasked with looking out for all of the NHL players. Dr. Peter DeLuca, the Eagles' head team physician, and Dr. Gary Dorshimer, the Eagles' internist, will both serve as medical consultants for the NHL.
"It's definitely going to be a different environment," Dr. DeLuca explained. "Obviously, when I'm here with the Eagles and the Flyers, I'm treating them. I'm making their diagnosis and coming up for a treatment plan and making a decision as to when they can play or how long they'll have to sit out or if someone needs something surgically done. That's not completely my responsibility with the Olympics. I'm looking out for the best interest of the NHL players.
"If an Olympian NHL player gets hurt, they're supposed to notify me of the injury, and then I consult with their country's doctors about their injuries, review any studies that they order and then we make a decision whether it's safe for that player to play or if he's at risk and it's going to compromise his NHL season. So it's a little different than one I'm used to, as far as taking care of the teams here or regular patients."
Dr. DeLuca (left) just completed his 17th season with the Eagles, and his 12th year as the team's head physician. He also serves as an orthopedic consultant with the Philadelphia Flyers and a sports medicine specialist with the Rothman Institute at Jefferson. Despite all of that experience, Dr. DeLuca has never experienced what it's like at the Olympics.
"The Olympics themselves are going to be exciting," Dr. DeLuca said. "Dealing with the athletes and just seeing all of the other athletes and the countries getting together, I think that's just going to be an unbelievable experience."
Fortunately for Dr. DeLuca, his traveling partner, Dr. Dorshimer, knows exactly what to expect in Sochi. Serving as the Flyers head physician and the Chief of Internal Medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital, Dr. Dorshimer has also been the secretary and treasurer of the NHL Team Physician Society since 1987.
This will be Dr. Dorshimer's fourth trip to the Olympics as a consultant. His first taste of the Olympics came in 1998 at Nagano. Sixteen years later, the lasting memories remain fresh in his mind.
"It's a fantastic experience," said Dr. Dorshimer. "One of the things that is very remarkable when you're there, and you see it on TV but you don't really think of it - there are no advertisements in the arenas. It's all Olympic logos and Olympic things and you really feel the spirit of the countries.
"The first one I went to was Nagano in 1998, and the people did it great there. For around two years each of the schools had a country that was their pen pal, and I guess they must have had a school in the other country where they had the same age kids where they wrote back and forth and each of them learned a little bit about each other's culture. At all the hockey games that I went to, whichever countries were playing, there was a little section of school kids and others up in the stands that was cheering on that country. You really see some of that camaraderie and support for each other."
Being associated with some of the greatest athletes that the United States has to offer is without a doubt a tremendous accomplishment, but what makes it even more meaningful to the doctors is that they have been voted in by their peers, a showing of just high highly respected that they are in their field.
"When the NHL first decided to go to Nagano, they wanted NHL doctors to represent their interests and to be second opinion doctors for their athletes, so they came to our NHL Team Physician Society Executive Committee," Dr. Dorshimer (right) explained. "I've been the secretary and treasurer now for over 25 years, and they essentially said, 'Who's done a lot for the society? Who has done a lot for the NHL? We'd like you to pick who would be the appropriate person?' So I've been picked by the Team Physician Society all of these times."
"It's an honor to have people know what you do and elect you and respect you for that," Dr. DeLuca added. "It's definitely an honor."
Though this will be the first time that the pair of Eagles doctors head to the Olympics together, they have collaborated in the past. Their role as NHL medical consultants is looked on favorably by the NHL players. They make sure that players won't play through anything that could jeopardize their NHL contracts back in the United States. The Olympic team doctors, on the other hand, don't view the NHL consultants as fondly. They want their athletes to compete as hard as they can in order to take home the gold medal. It's a bit of a tricky spot that once forced Dr. Dorshimer to rely on Dr. DeLuca's help.
"Dr. Dorshimer called me up from Vancouver and there was a player that hurt his knee who had surgery three weeks prior to the Olympics," Dr. DeLuca recalled about the 2010 Winter Games. "He was a Russian athlete, and the Russian doctors said that he could play. The (NHL team) doctors said no, he couldn't play and the orthopedic surgeon from the NHL said that he couldn't play, so Gary called me up and got my opinion and I said the same thing.
"He went back to the Russian doctors and told him that he had three doctors telling him that he couldn't play, and the Russian doctor said that he could get nine Russian doctors that say he could play, so they were at a stalemate. So they ended up calling the team, and the team called the player and said, 'If you play against our team doctor's medical advice and something happens to you, we aren't going to pay you for the rest of the season.'
"The player did not play, and he saw Dr. Dorshimer and one of the other doctors out, and he thanked them personally for looking out for his well-being. We're appreciated by the NHL players, but we probably won't be appreciated by the countries that they represent."
The first puck drops for men's ice hockey at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games on Tuesday. Dr. DeLuca and Dr. Dorshimer will be onboard the NHL charter flight that leaves on Sunday morning. They will be working with nearly 150 of the best NHL players, and though that may sound like a large group, the Eagles' gold medal doctors are ready for what lies ahead.
"It's probably the biggest group of athletes in one crowd that I have to attend to," said Dr. Dorshimer. "The only thing that comes close is Eagles preseason football, where at that point it's 80-something players who are at the preseason games."
As all of the national flags wave and fans clad in different colors yell and cheer on their countries, Eagles fans can rest easy knowing that midnight green will be well represented at the 2014 Winter Olympics.