Dr. David Mulder will never forget the first hockey player he ever stitched up.
It was 1963 and Mulder was a team physician with the Junior Canadiens, who were playing the Oshawa Generals at the Forum.
“You know who my first patient was? Bobby Orr,” the 81-year-old Mulder said about the future Hall of Fame defenceman during an interview last week in his office at the Montreal General Hospital. “He was playing for Oshawa and he got quite a big cut in his forehead. Scalp wounds really bleed. In those days, the corridor to the clinic was lined with battleship linoleum — red white and blue, of course. Anyways, by the time we got him to the clinic there was blood all over the floor, particularly on the white part.
“So I sutured him up, three or four stitches, stopped the bleeding, and I said: ‘Bobby you’re ready to go,’” Mulder added. “He said: ‘I’d like a wet towel.’ I said: ‘It’s OK, I wiped your face off.’ But he insisted on a wet towel. Then he got down on his hands and knees and washed the floor.”
Mulder and Orr would become friends over the years and still get together sometimes during the summer to go fishing.
“He tells the story and says: ‘My mother always said that cleanliness was next to godliness,” Mulder said with a chuckle.
Mulder worked his way up to become the Canadiens’ team physician, a position he has held for the last 50 years. Mulder attends every game at the Bell Centre and also keeps a busy schedule at the Montreal General Hospital, where he is the hospital’s former surgeon-in-chief and now holds the title of H. Rocke Robertson Professor of Surgery.
Mulder will be the honourary co-chair — along with former Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisebois — for the inaugural Cedars Hockey to Conquer Cancer three-on-three tournament that will be held on April 5 at Hockey Etcetera in Town of Mount Royal. There is room for 16 teams with a goal of raising $250,000.
During a 30-minute interview in his hospital office last week, Mulder spoke about some of the more memorable moments and people in his long career with the Canadiens.
On former Canadiens coach Toe Blake:
“Imagine starting out with Toe Blake as your first coach. I was the most junior guy there and looking after the Junior Canadiens, but we would bump into each other in the corridors at the Forum at practice. One day, I met him in the hospital here and he said: ‘Doc, would you help me? I said: ‘Sure.’ He said: ‘My wife’s sick.’ I was afraid of him, he was gruff. He said: ‘I’m a little embarrassed to talk with the surgeon, would you come with me?’ In those days we were all in white. So I went with him and we talked about the information. Ever since then we were very good friends and it lasted throughout his career.
“As a reward, he would invite me and several other residents to the Toe Blake Tavern on Friday nights. So we had beer and pig knuckles every Friday night. It was great. Over the years I got to know him very well and it was sad to see him deteriorate (with Alzheimer’s). In the end, he didn’t even know me. But he was an incredible guy. Tough and yet very soft-hearted. Imagine starting out with him as your first exposure to a coach.”
On his relationship with Jean Béliveau:
“He is my favourite. That’s why this picture (pointing to a photo of Béliveau and Mulder together on his office wall) is so important. That’s when he got his honourary degree (from McGill University). I always felt so good about that.
“He helped me so much as a doctor during games. I always remember a confrontation with John Ferguson. He was a fighter and one time he got knocked out in the second period and he wanted to come back in the third period and I wouldn’t let him go back. (Dr. (Douglas) Kinnear (the Canadiens’ head physician at the time) wasn’t there to support me … I was the young doctor. Béliveau came across the confrontation in the hallway and said: ‘Doc, don’t fight with him. It’s a no-win. I’ll look after him.’ So the third period came and John Ferguson wasn’t on the bench and didn’t play. Béliveau took him in the clinic and locked the door. To me, that’s leadership. He was so helpful to me in difficult situations. His leadership as a captain was unbelievable.”
On what he enjoys most about his job as team physician:
“I think that what I’ve enjoyed the most about the game are the people. I think of Scotty Bowman, Toe Blake. Claude Ruel was one of my favourites. I think he was one of the best hockey scouts going.
“Before I worked with the big team, which I started in 1969, I thought I knew a lot about hockey management and hockey scouting, so I went on a scouting trip with Claude Ruel and we went to Burlington. We drove down and he had a few Big Macs along the way and then we watched the University of Vermont play against Boston College. But we were scouting John LeClair. I thought he must have a sophisticated scouting system. But he had little 3×5 index cards and a slot in each corner for skating, checking, etc. So he said: ‘Doc, I want you to rate all the players on both teams.’ I did and then I gave him my cards and as we were driving back he looked at them all for a while and he says: ‘Doc, keep your day job.’ These are the experiences that you could never duplicate.”
On how he decided to become a doctor:
“The little town I grew up in is Eston (Saskatchewan). One time we got into a little trouble and we started up a tractor that was hooked to a woodchopper. My friend got his hand caught in the fan belt and cut off his fingers. And so we got in real trouble. But the person who bailed us out of it was the family doctor (Sam Holmes) and he left a lasting impression on me and then I got to know him over the years.
“But the guy who really encouraged me to be a physician was my hockey coach (Clark Burlingame). In our little town we won the juvenile championship when I was in Grade 11 and we beat North Battleford. Of course, like any kid in Saskatchewan you’re going to be the next Gordie Howe. I had an offer to play junior hockey and he said: ‘You should never consider it. You’re never going to make it any further than this. You’ll end up with a nice leather (team) jacket. You should go to university.’ So I applied to medicine (at the University of Saskatchewan).”
On helping save the life of former Canadiens player Trent McCleary, who took a slapshot in the throat during a game at the Bell Centre on Jan. 29, 2000 with Mulder and Dr. David Fleiszer forced to perform an emergency tracheotomy:
“For sure, the scariest moment. It shows you the benefit of having a Level 1 trauma centre in close proximity to the Bell Centre. If you recall, we were 17 minutes from the time he got hit to arriving in the operating room at the Montreal General, which is unheard of. We have two ambulances at the Bell Centre for every game — one for the crowd and one for us — and they’re parked right outside our clinic. It happened on a Sunday afternoon — Super Bowl — and so there was no traffic. Dr. Fleiszer and I had to hold his airway open. We opened his airway with what they call basic life skills. (McCleary) was very muscular and very strong. Dr. Fleiszer and I, our hands got so tired that we had to rotate back and forth. We didn’t stop in the emergency room. We phoned ahead and went directly to the operating room. We did the tracheotomy and he still had his skates on.”
On what it feels like to know you’ve saved someone’s life:
“We’re very fortunate in our profession to have that degree of satisfaction. It was so great to see Trent and that he didn’t have any brain damage or suffer in any way. Now he’s a father of two children and coaching hockey. When I got home for the summer and go to the farm I go to Swift Current, where he lives, and we get together for a beer or two. It’s an amazing opportunity and an amazing privilege.”
On concussions in today’s NHL:
“We’re probably more aware of it and more careful with it. We still don’t have a good way to diagnose it, but I don’t think there are any more (concussions) than before. In fact, the NHL thinks there might be a decrease. When you think back, when I first looked after the juniors there were no helmets. We always had many, many stitches each game. When I was with the Junior Canadiens we had two players lose their eye. I think we do much better (with concussions now). I think the National Hockey League has been incredibly good in terms of education, prevention, protocol, spotters in the crowd. They’ve been exemplary.”
On his relationship with Canadiens owner Geoff Molson:
“He was a contemporary of one of my sons. They played hockey in the basement. You think of the Molson family, one of the most incredible guys was Senator Hartland Molson. You remember, he used to always sit behind the bench. I got to know him and talk to him. The nice thing about the Molsons is that for seven generations they’ve sponsored this hospital. John Molson started this hospital in 1821 and now, seven generations later, Andrew is head of the foundation. As a family they’ve been enormously supportive.”
For more information about entering a team or being a sponsor for the Cedars Hockey to Conquer Cancer tournament, contact Natalia Kalbarczyk at 514-656-6662.