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:: By Laura Demanski, AM’94

:: Photography by Dan Dry

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Chicago Journal ::

Hockey doc

The larger-than-life physician with the boyish features and businesslike demeanor tackles tonight’s question: “Why is a knee replacement only available to older patients instead of younger, more active patients?” On another night the question may be equally serious—or self-serving or silly: “Why do goalies suffer so many knee injuries?” “Are hockey players at increased risk of illness because they have wet hair on the ice?” “Why aren’t our guys tough enough to play through their injuries?” “How many of the team members are married?”

photo:  hockey doc
Ice sage: Michael Terry, MD’98, dispenses sports-medicine advice from the Chicago Blackhawks Jumbotron.

The last two questions didn’t make it through a pre-screen, but they were among the queries the Chicago Blackhawks received last fall when they invited fans to submit the hockey-related medical questions that kept them awake at night. The organization wasn’t putting together a pop quiz for its new team of doctors, almost all of whom hail from the University of Chicago Hospitals. With a number of telegenic physicians in the fold and a 12 x 20 foot Jumbotron at its disposal, the team’s promotional staff had something else in mind: they were going to make some of those doctors huge.

From the mind of a marketer sprang Ask the Team Doctor, one of several features designed to entertain United Center fans during breaks in the action at Blackhawks home games. It may not yet have the following of the Kiss Cam or the team’s crack organist Frank Pellico, who mugs for the camera as winningly as he plays the United Center’s Allen digital organ, but Ask the Team Doctor is decidedly more educational. “We wanted to personalize the doctors and saw a chance to answer some questions that the weekend athletes among our fans might have,” says Blackhawks Executive Director of Sales and Marketing Jim Sofranko.

Michael Terry, MD’98, was a prime candidate to star in the spots, taped in a United Center training room (orthopedic surgeon Sherwin Ho and UCH Director of Sports Medicine Bruce Reider also take turns fielding questions). Chicago Hospitals doctors involved with the NHL club also include three internal-medicine physicians, two ophthalmologists, and a few other specialists. But it was Terry who, during his first year as assistant professor of surgery and sports medicine at the Pritzker School, led the Hospitals in striking the agreement to provide medical services for the Blackhawks, one of the NHL’s original six teams, with a franchise dating to 1917.

In 2004–05, with the league dark as players and owners tried to hash out a new contract, the team was looking for a local teaching hospital to take over medical duties. Terry, who returned to Chicago after a residency and internship in New York City and a fellowship in Vail, Colorado, carried the play for the Hospitals. He served as the Blackhawks’ main medical contact with Chicago during a four-month interview process and helped assemble the team. “I knew it would be something that would be fun for all of us to do together,” says Terry, “so we got some doctors on board and then we talked to people in Hospitals administration.” By terms of the agreement, an orthopedist and an internist are always on site to take care of on-ice injuries, which run the gamut from “broken hands and toes to facial fractures.” Other specialists—including ophthalmologists, hand doctors, and dentists—are available for consultation and treatment.

A mechanical-engineering major as a University of Illinois undergrad, Terry was an avid athlete before he considered becoming a doctor, and his first sports gigs, with the U.S. ski and volleyball teams, came about through contacts he had made participating in those activities. He is also team doctor for a local minor-league baseball team, the Windy City Thunderbolts.

None of those other gigs have made him a minor celebrity, though. Thanks to the Jumbotron spots, he’s been recognized on the streets a few times, and “it’s amazing how many friends have called to haze me about it.” Taping the segments didn’t cause him any stage fright, but watching them might: he hasn’t seen an episode in its entirety. “It’s a pretty big picture in front of a lot of people,” he says.

Ask the Team Doctor appeared 20 times in 42 home games last season. Terry was on duty at most of those games, shuttling between the locker room and the bench. A game night for him typically stretches from 6 to 11 p.m. For Terry, the games usually follow a full day at the Hospitals that might start at 6:15 a.m. and include lecturing at Pritzker, seeing patients, and performing surgery.

Although each team travels with its own medical team during playoffs, in the regular season the home team’s doctors look after both sides’ players. This practice has landed Terry face-to-face with some formidable figures: “It is interesting going into the other locker room to see a player, having the coach come up to ask what you think, and saying, ‘Well, Mr. Gretzky….’”