Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Don DelNegro honored by Boston Bruins
BOSTON — Twenty-seven years and more than 2,000 games is a long time for anyone at one place. But that's how long Don DelNegro has been behind the Boston bench as the Bruins' trainer."It's kind of mind-boggling," he said, "if you think about it in the big picture."
The North Adams native and former Director of Sports Medicine at Williams College has been the head athletic trainer for the Bruins for nearly three decades. DelNegro came in when Ray Bourque was patrolling the blue line at the old Boston Garden. Now DelNegro is watching over Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and a number of other Bruins players who probably weren't born when he made the switch from Williamstown to the Garden.
"I never would have thought I'd have been here for more than one year, let alone 27," DelNegro said. "Yeah, it's a lot of hockey. I've watched a lot of hockey."
DelNegro, a Westfield State graduate, joined the Bruins in 1993 and hasn't left.
The team honored him last month for reaching the 2,000-game mark behind the Boston bench. It was a milestone that DelNegro told me was never, ever on his radar screen.
"[Former general manager] Mike Milbury hired me. My first contract was for six months," DelNegro said when we met in TD Garden on Black Friday. "He said 'We'll review it in January and see how you're doing. If everything is working out, we'll talk about an extension.'"
It was a bit of a leap of faith for DelNegro and his family, which at the time included wife Claire.
"My wife and I kind of rolled the dice," he said. "We said let's give it a try. Worse comes to worse, we're looking for a job in June.
"Here we are, 27 years later."
Those 27 years included a Stanley Cup win in Vancouver against the Canucks.
When I spoke to DelNegro at the time, he said there weren't words to describe the feeling of winning what is described as the hardest trophy in team sports to win. When it was over, DelNegro did get an opportunity to hoist Lord Stanley's chalice after the Bruins beat the Canucks. It is part of why DelNegro said that he enjoys Boston's one trip to Vancouver every year.
"I'm not sure there are words in the dictionary to describe it," DelNegro said at the time. "It's unbelievable, probably the first thing. It's such a feeling that I've never had before. It's amazing."
In 27 years, Don DelNegro has had a lot of different players come through the Garden locker room.
"They're awesome," he said of this year's team. "All the teams I've had with the Bruins have been really good, so I have no complaints. They've been professionals. They've treated me really well over the years. Management's treated me well. Obviously, you don't stay in this job for 27 years, if you don't feel like you're being treated well and feel respected. I love the players, and I assume vice-versa."
It doesn't look a lot different from when DelNegro first went behind the Boston bench. But we all know that is not close to being the case.
"Dramatically," he said. "The number of people on staff. When I started, on the road, I was by myself. Now there's four of us, and we're getting bigger. The medical staff is much bigger. The sports performance staff is bigger. The equipment staff is bigger. The coaching staff is bigger."
Since the Bruins moved to the Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, it's been good news and bad news for DelNegro.
On game day, the morning skate is at 11 a.m, so he arrives at the rink at 8. He'll get to the Garden for 3 p.m., and get home around 11.
Of course, he lives in Lynnfield, which is far closer to the old Ristuccia facility. DelNegro said he used to go home for a break between the skate and getting to the arena.
The new practice rink has the newest technology for DelNegro. But if it had a transporter?
"I'm 20 miles from Warrior," he said with a laugh, "and it takes me an hour and a half to go 20 miles. If I leave my house at 7, I don't get in until 8:30."
We joked about when he first started, his job was to hand out Advil and ice. That, of course, is no longer the case. He also said that the hockey players under his care are also far different than when he started.
"They're in much better shape. Sports performance and fitness has grown dramatically in the world of sports," he said. "Players are in much better shape. There's much less time getting them into shape at the beginning of the season. There's better technology utilized to keep them in shape during the season.
"Although injury rates haven't changed, they vary. We don't see a lot of the injuries that we do now and vice versa."
Somehow, when I run into Don DelNegro, the conversation always turns to his former employer. He grew up in the shadow of Williams and it is still near and dear.
DelNegro is still waiting to meet football coach Mark Raymond. That's because he had a connection with Raymond's father.
"His dad [John] and I were golf buddies for years up in Lake Placid," DelNegro said, referring to the late John Raymond, who coached at Saranac Lake High School, and has the football field there named after him and Ken Wilson. After coaching, John Raymond was the athletic director there.
"Just like all golfers, you just kind of meet up in the summers. His dad and some other guys hit it off really well, so we ended up a foursome," DelNegro said. "I never really met Mark over all those years. I've tried twice when I came back to Williamstown. He's just never there in the summers. We're trying."
As to Don DelNegro's tenure at Williams, he said it was similar to his time with the Bruins.
"It was hard to leave, very hard to leave," he said. "They treated me really well. The athletes were unbelievable. The staff I got to work with were awesome people.
"I miss them. It was a tough decision to leave Williams, but in the long run, it's been pretty good."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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