Story by Dave Anthony
Lana DeBeer – Athletic Therapist, Winnipeg Blues
Lana started with the Blues organization in 2001 but before the Blues, she started in hockey a bit before her run with her hometown team. “When I was an athletic therapy student, there was a group of three of us and we all wanted hockey experience, so we all worked together for this one team for one season. It really wasn’t much of anything.”
Finding the gig with the Blues was a little luck mixed in with a great reputation. “I kind of stumbled into the job with Winnipeg” she says with a laugh. “I was in my last year for athletic therapy and knew I needed more hours. They actually contacted me. I still don’t know where they got my name from, but I met with the GM and President at the time, and he sort of talked to me about this opportunity. I knew Doug Stokes who was the head coach of the time, I knew him from outside the world of hockey, so it all kind of fit together.”
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League as a whole was a new world for Lana, “I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into” she explained. But once she was in the league, it just felt right. “I thought I might be there for a year or so while collecting hours and I just kind of never left. It’s been a terrific run here with the Blues”
Her family didn’t see any issues with Lana venturing into the mainly male dominated world of hockey. “They weren’t concerned at all. I was a little older at the time when I did my athletic therapy degree. It was my second degree, so I was further along in my academic life. They didn’t have any concern about it and they were very supportive.”
In a story told on MJHLhockey.ca earlier in the week, Alison Deneweth told a story about how she was hired with the Steelers and while it wasn’t as blunt as it was for Allison, Lana shared a somewhat similar tale. “I do sort of recall, in the beginning, I remember hearing something about somebody saying they had hoped they had found a male. It wasn’t a situation of ‘oh, you’ll do’ but it was ‘this was our preference, but we’ll take you’.
Walking into the Blues organization was pretty easy. “They had had female trainers before,” she explained. “So, I don’t know if the female part of it was too shocking. I will say, I was pretty green when it came to the world of hockey. I didn’t know players could be traded around or what it meant to hold guys rights or things like that. I had to really learn the hockey side of it, the coaching and business side of it.”
While the game of hockey has changed over the past number of years, Lana believes that the position of athletic therapist has largely stayed the same. “I think the expectation… there’s a certain level of competency and a level of responsibility all the way through. You will hone your skills as time goes on.”
Seeing Allison already in the position she was in was pretty important for Lana. “Allison and I are very good friends now because we’ve been doing it for so long. We quite often will go to each other to bounce ideas off each other or moral support. Whatever a situation may call for.”
The Winnipeg Blues organization has changed quite a bit since Lana came on board in the early 2000’s. “Yeah, it’s been pretty interesting” she details. “When I started, we were playing out of Century Arena and there was a promise of another rink coming but that eventually fizzled out, I’m not sure what happened there. Eventually, we moved to the Ice Plex and all of a sudden, we had a dressing room where the players didn’t have to take their gear with them. I had a medical room, it was fantastic. Then things changed again when ownership changed, the dynamic changed. When the new ownership came through, they said to me ‘you’ve been here a long time, do you want to keep going? Do you feel like you’ve run your course? What do you want to do?’ I said I’d like to come back but maybe a little bit of a lesser role. I was a little bit worried how it would impact my relationship with the players and coaches, but I don’t think it’s changed too much.”
A student brought on to assist with the Blues a few years back and now she is with the Portage Terriers, Lydia Pongoski. Lydia had this to say when asked about the role Lana has played in her career. ‘“Lana, 100% is my role-model” she says emphatically. “I’ve taken her to be my mentor. I love her dearly. It’s so amazing to see her and know she’s been in the hockey world for so long, it’s like, I can do it. If Lana can do it, I can do it. It was for sure her that kept pushing me into that world.” When she was told what Lydia had to say, Lana responded “it’s very humbling. It’s fantastic to know you can have an impact on somebody because when you’re in the moment, you don’t really know how you’re impacting somebody.”
For Lana, there’s a lot of pride that comes with being one of the first women in the MJHL and says having more women in the game can be beneficial on several levels. “I feel like in some ways, it brings a little different element. Our team chaplain has a joke that I’m the team mom and maybe in some way’s I am. I’ve talked to players over the years and there’s never been an issue of having a woman around the team. It’s maybe even been refreshing for some of them.”
Not only has she impacted people like Lydia or Kate Wiens in Swan Valley, but also many young girls who Lana may never meet but will use her as an inspiration to follow their dreams. “I think it’s pretty cool to think you have that kind of role for someone. I have a step-daughter who is 17 and while I don’t think she’ll be in the athletic therapy world, it does show her that you can break some barriers and there can be obstacles but you can fight through them.”
Coaching is an area where Lana believes there will be a greater female influence down the line. “You know, if that’s what they want to do, I don’t see why they can’t” she says with a chuckle.
A pair of championship runs with the Blues are the highlights so far of a wonderful career. “The most recent one, I think we were the underdogs” she explains. “No one really expected it, so it was pretty special. We had such a great staff and a group of incredible players.
It’s not just a pair of MJHL championship rings, she adds “I also got an RBC Cup ring when I was helping Portage when they hosted.”
During the time off, she’s has discovered something. “I have found that I’ve been very bored, actually” she says with a laugh. “You don’t realize how much time it takes up to be at the rink and involved with the team. I just try and keep busy working and such.”
As for coming back in the fall, Lana is hopeful if not cautious. “Because I work in health care, I’m a bit more nervous about the potential of the impact of the coronavirus, even for the upcoming season. But, if we can get everything set in place, I think it’ll be fantastic to get back into it.”