The ongoing Stanley Cup Finals and National Hockey League playoffs have showcased the best hockey players in the world.
A number of those players are able to play thanks to Peter Jebson, MD.
Dr. Jebson, an orthopedic surgeon and hand specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group, is also a hand consultant for the NHL.
Although he cannot disclose the names of players he has treated, he hinted he has worked on multiple high-profile and All Star-caliber players, including several whose teams qualified for this year’s playoffs.
“It’s very rewarding because you develop a relationship with these kids and get them back to playing and (being) successful and doing what they love to do,” Dr. Jebson said. “There’s a lot of pressure because there are multimillion-dollar contracts at stake, and teams and sponsors have a lot of money at stake too, but when you see them back healthy and succeeding, it’s great.”
Hand injuries are often devastating in the NHL.
In December, Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger dislocated his left wrist after sliding hard into the boards. He needed surgery and missed four months.
In April, New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh broke his hand’s metacarpal bones while blocking a shot, causing him to miss the end of the regular season and part of the playoffs.
NHL rookie phenom Connor McDavid, arguably the best young hockey player in the world, broke his right hand in 2014 during an on-ice fight at a junior hockey game. He missed six weeks right before the NHL Draft.
These types of injuries are common in the sport, said Dr. Jebson, who spent 14 years at the University of Michigan, where he was chief of orthopedic hand surgery and he treated the university’s athletes.
Additionally, he often sees forced hyper-flexion of the wrist and scaphoid fractures, which can occur when players are checked into the boards. He also sees triangular fibrocartilage complex injuries, “which is torn cartilage that occurs following a twisting or turning activity,” Dr. Jebson said.
“With checking and stick handling, hockey has a lot of twisting and torquing of the wrists,” he added.
Jebson said the physicality of the game leads to injuries like Connor McDavid’s and others.
“There is checking, there are fights, there are after-the-whistle skirmishes,” he said. “Players are squaring off and sometimes punching and hitting each other. That’s why they get a boxer’s fracture (a broken metacarpal bone) or other fractures in the hand.”
So what exactly is an NHL consultant?
Every NHL team has its own doctors who handle player injuries. But occasionally a player or a player’s agent is concerned the team doctor has a conflict of interest, so he’ll seek a second opinion.
And because of Dr. Jebson’s reputation in the industry, his colleagues often send patients his way when a second opinion is needed.
Jebson, who also treats players for the acclaimed Ferris State hockey program, said that once players and agents trust a certain doctor and have good results, they often come back and see that doctor for future injuries.
It can be difficult to develop a treatment plan for professional athletes, given their high-profile status, the doctor said. The player and the team have schedule pressures, contract pressures and other factors to consider.
Most want their injuries to remain secret because teams can use past injuries as a reason to offer players less money during their free agency, Dr. Jebson said.
“These guys are high maintenance,” said Dr. Jebson, who also recently became a consultant for the National Basketball Association. “You have to make yourself available to the player, to agents, to the player’s representatives, etc.
“But then you see them successful, you see them in the newspaper or on ESPN, and it feels pretty good,” he said. “It really does.”