Feb. 8, 2022

Doctor to Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team: ‘It’s an absolute privilege’

Alumnus David Manning plays an essential support role beside the bench at international hockey events like Beijing 2022
UCalgary medical grad David Manning co-founded Group23 Sports Medicine and also serves as team physician for the Flames and Stamps.
UCalgary medical grad David Manning co-founded Group23 Sports Medicine and also serves as team physician for the Flames and Stamps. Courtesy David Manning

The Olympic Winter Games hockey tournament will be contested at two rinks in Beijing — National Indoor Stadium and Wukesong Arena.

Dr. David Manning, before the first puck drop, will have scrutinized the layout of each structure to determine the best vantage points. As team physician for the Canadian men’s squad, he requires clean sight lines and easy ice access to do his job properly.

When trainers, tending to fallen players during games, raise their hand over their head and make a fist, they’re calling for a physician — and that person needs to be able to see the gesture and rush to the scene.

Hence the pre-game scouting missions by team doctors.

“Every venue is different,” says Manning, MD’06. “When we get there, we’ll suss out the arena. At the Olympics or any world championships, you usually stand right beside the bench — there’s usually a door (there to the ice). We have to have good communication with the trainers. Then players, when they do get hurt and come off, you can walk with them to an assessment room.”

Experience at highest level

Team Canada’s men’s team opens their 2022 Olympic-gold bid Feb. 10 against Germany, and Manning, a graduate of UCalgary’s medical school (now Cumming School of Medicine) — is becoming an old hand at this.

In addition to serving as one of the team physicians for the NHL’s Calgary Flames and the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, he’s handled a long list of international events, including world senior and junior championships.

“Hockey Canada, they have such good people, it’s always a pleasure,” says Manning. “If they ever ask, you can’t say no — that’s the whole thing. It’s an absolute privilege, right? If someone says, ‘Hey, do you want to go do a world championship?’ It’s, ‘Yeah, sure. Absolutely.’”

Manning — co-founder of Group23 Sports Medicine, based at WinSport — expanded his horizons further in 2018 with a trip to the Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, where he also took care of the Canadian men’s hockey players.

“The whole spirit of the Games is quite captivating — all the athletes of the world getting together,” says Manning. “It’s fun to be a part of that. Sitting in the meal hall and going, ‘Hey, look — there’s the Dutch speed skater who just set a world record.’ Just seeing the athletes and how much it means to them.

But, for someone like me, it’s work. We, as a staff, have a very clear priority, which is to ensure that our players are in the best possible shape to compete at the highest possible level.

“We put our heads down and get that done and support them the best we can.”

Which is also the goal of Dr. Victor Lun, MD. A physician from the UCalgary Sport Medicine Centre working his third Olympics, he is charged with the medical care of Canadians racing in bobsleigh, skeleton and luge.

In Manning’s professional path, it’s hockey that has become prevalent.

Small community offers opportunity

Born in Edmonton and raised in Calgary — where he was quarterback for Bishop Carroll High School’s football team — Manning earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. Accepted into UCalgary’s med school, he returned home and, through shinny sessions with local doctors, met an influential mentor, Dr. Jim Thorne, MD, who Manning describes as “a sports medicine legend,” with well-established ties to Hockey Canada.

“It really is a small community,” says Manning — especially when someone with Thorne’s credibility is vouching for you. “He basically says to a guy like (Hockey Canada vice-president of hockey operations) Scott Salmond, ‘Hey, Sammy. One of our new docs here, a really good guy, knows the game, he would be a really good fit.’ And they give you the opportunity.

“Then it’s really like anything — if you fit in and do your job well ...”

Manning completed a fellowship at the University of Alberta’s Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic in 2013. The following year, he got his first taste of overseas deployment, working for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, an under-18 event co-hosted by Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Now, to a resumé brimming with international events, he’s adding the 2022 Winter Games.

“An Olympic gold medal would be incredible,” says Manning. “It’s a pretty special event and to be part of it is a huge privilege.”

Team Canada’s first game against Germany will be broadcast live on the CBC on Feb. 10.

Check out the CBC's events schedule and results.