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Dr. David Mulder: From Jean Béliveau to Brendan Gallagher

The team’s head physician is nearing 60 years to care for the Montreal Canadiens.

Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Nearly 60 years ago, in July of 1963, Dr. David S. Mulder joined the Montreal Canadiens organization at the invitation of the team’s lead physician, Dr. Douglas G. Kinnear. The two doctors met at the Montreal General Hospital where Dr. Mulder was doing his residency and Dr. Kinnear was establishing the first gastroenterology division in Canada.

Dr. Kinnear himself joined the team a season earlier, and quickly understood the gravity of the role when his rapid response to a fallen Lou Fontinato saved the player’s life. The Canadiens’ tough man missed a check against a Rangers forward and slammed his head into the boards violently. Fontinato was left paralyzed for a month as a result, but it was Dr. Kinnear’s rapid intervention that prevented it from being far worse.

The toughness of hockey players has become legend, and Dr. Kinnear’s introduction to them was via Claude Provost who required stitches on his forehead after a laceration. The doctor looked around the medical room for a local anesthetic, but there was none to be found in the Montreal Forum training area. Provost took a stitch without any freezing, and grunted at Dr. Kinnear’s suggestion afterwards to take a rest. Provost proceeded right back to the bench, to wait for his next regular shift. The toughness of players didn’t so much concern Dr. Kinnear as it encouraged him to develop a medical entourage to look after them, with the blessing of Canadiens managing director Sam Pollock.

Dr. Mulder would join the Canadiens organization to look after the Montreal Junior Canadiens, then was assigned the to Montreal Voyageurs, and finally graduated to the National Hockey League in 1971, ‘called up’ at the same time as a certain young goaltending prodigy, Ken Dryden.

Dr. Mulder has seen an incredible evolution in medical care for the players during his time, as the days of stitching without freezing are obviously long gone. The science of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment had absolutely skyrocketed. Every player now undergoes a comprehensive ECG and baseline neuropsychological tests at the start of training camp, and every team is equipped with a standardized medical equipment bag which includes an AED (automated external defibrillator).

When Dr. Kinnear retired in 1999 after serving with the Canadiens since 1962, Dr. Mulder took on the role of lead physician, and currently heads a team of orthopedic surgeons, physicians, and dentists who try their best to keep the players healthy despite their legendary need to return to the ice no matter what.

Dr. Mulder was on the ice for some of the more gruesome events in Canadiens history, such as the time Josh Gorges was hit with a slapshot opening up a four-centimetre laceration in the back of his head, and when Max Pacioretty was driven into the stanchion by Zdeno Chara. The worst injury Dr. Mulder recalls is when Trent McCleary was hit in the neck blocking a slapshot from the point, causing trauma to the larynx and obstructing the airway. McCleary was giving a panicked ‘choke’ sign with his arms, letting everyone know that he was struggling to breathe. It was Dr. Mulder’s rapid reaction to assess and diagnose a collapsed airway that saved the player’s life.

Not all of his work was done on-ice, as Dr. Mulder was also the one to lead a team of physicians to diagnose why Saku Koivu was undergoing severe abdominal pains, and had to break the news to him about his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Dr. Kinnear and Dr. Mulder published a book of their stories

Many of Dr. Mulder’s stories were published in an autobiography in 2021 called Hockey Doc: Stories on Fifty Years of Medical Care to the Montreal Canadiens, with all proceeds from sale of the book going to the Montreal General Hospital Foundation. Although the book was co-authored by Dr. Kinnear, it was published posthumously, as Dr. Kinnear passed away in 2019.

Ticket Giveaway

Eyes On The Prize is giving away two tickets to An Evening with Dr. Mulder on September 30. In order to enter into the contest, simple comment below with your clearest memory of the medical staff’s work for the team, and you will be automatically added to the random draw, with winners being announced closer to the event date. Odds are that whatever story you remember, Dr. Mulder was involved in its assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.