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Boston Bruins Medical Director Reflects on the Evolution of Player Care in The Team’s Centennial Year

Contributor: Peter Asnis, MD
7 minute read
hockey players skating on rink

2024 marks a significant milestone for the Boston Bruins, as they celebrate their 100th anniversary and reflect on their storied history as the NHL's oldest American team. For nearly 70 years, Massachusetts General Hospital has served as the official medical provider of the Boston Bruins, pioneering hockey sports medicine research and practice. As the sport has evolved, so too have the techniques and technologies used by Mass General Brigham doctors to safeguard the health and safety of the players on and off the ice.

Peter Asnis, MD, is a sports medicine physician at Mass General Brigham and the team medical director and physician for the Bruins. Currently in his 18th season working with the Bruins, he is also director of professional sports for Mass General Brigham, the team doctor for the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox, and a member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and team physician societies of the NHL, NFL, and MLB.

“When I became the team doctor for the Bruins, I came into an environment where everyone trusted Mass General implicitly, thanks to the exemplary work of those who came before me,” says Dr. Asnis. “I took that goodwill to heart. In everything I do with the team, I work to carry that legacy of mindful athlete care forward.”

Here, Dr. Asnis distills the Mass General approach to sports medicine care for professional athletes into a few key takeaways.

Learn about Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine services

Brain health is so important, not just to player performance, but to overall patient health and well-being.

Peter Asnis, MD
Sports Medicine Physician
Mass General Brigham

Concussion prevention and care are paramount

Sports medicine clinicians and researchers know so much more about concussions and the effects they can have on the brain than they used to in previous years and are learning more each day. Each year, doctors and engineers collaborate on enhancing hockey equipment and protocols aimed at preventing or reducing head injuries, and the NHL works closely with the medical community to ensure player safety.

Mass General Brigham has been focused on brain health and concussion care from the very beginning. Dr. Augustus Thorndike, the pioneer of Massachusetts General Hospital’s sports medicine specialty, played a pivotal role in this expertise. He enacted regulations requiring the presence of doctors at all collegiate sporting events and introduced concussion protocols that continue to inform contemporary practices.

“We always err on the side of caution, because brain health is so important, not just to player performance, but to overall patient health and well-being,” says Dr. Asnis. “We also know that concussions can affect people differently. Any player that I suspect has suffered a concussion comes off the ice immediately. We never want to put anyone in a situation where they are susceptible to multiple concussions in a short period of time.”

There is a strict set of guidelines each hockey club must adhere to so that concussions are identified quickly and players with suspected concussions are removed from play, closely monitored, and provided with the necessary support for safe recovery.

It's all in the knees

Knee injuries, including  ligament (MCL and ACL) and meniscus tears, are quite common in the NHL. Dr. Asnis specializes in knee care, and having an orthopedic knee specialist serve as team medical director speaks to the importance placed on the joint in the sport. It’s critical that the Bruins’ medical team is well-equipped to prevent or manage these injuries as they inevitably occur on the ice.

Hockey players are taught to skate with a bent knee, which exposes the joint to extreme forces during routine skating and especially in instances of physical contact/checking. The ability to balance on relatively thin skate blades enables players to move around quickly, but requires strength and flexibility in the leg muscles and bones. The knee and leg can move forward and backward easily, but sudden lateral motion can lead to injury. While the skate keeps the ankle relatively stable during play, the knee is unsupported.

By the time Dr. Asnis began working with the Bruins, the techniques and technology of knee surgery had advanced leaps and bounds, with minimally invasive surgical treatments being somewhat commonplace for injured athletes. Surgical recovery time has been reduced enough that often injured players can undergo surgery and be ready to play again the next season.

Another advancement in knee care for professional athletes has been the proliferation of biologics. Biologics refers to the use of human tissues in medical treatment, either autologous (from a patient’s own tissues) or allogenic (donated). Some players pursue biologic treatments for knee pain, like protein-rich plasma (PRP), for example. These treatments are used by pro athletes more frequently than laypeople due to the associated costs and the experimental/untested nature of some of the treatments. Doctors and researchers are learning more about the function and outcomes of biologic treatments as more and more athletes elect to utilize them.   

It’s ok to not feel ok

Because hockey is a tough sport, there can be a pressure to “play through the pain.” Dr. Asnis cautions that keeping quiet about an injury or pain can lead to injury complications and long-term health issues.

“I establish a deep trust and confidentiality with my players and all my patients, so that they know they can come to me immediately with any concerns,” he shares. “Whether it’s knee pain, a groin pull, or a sprained wrist, it’s my duty to address each concern swiftly and safely.”

Continuing to play while injured or in pain, or worse, self-medicating, is never a good idea. When a player is injured, Dr. Asnis conducts thorough assessments to diagnose and address their injuries as soon as possible. He collaborates with the player and his medical team, discussing the case as a group in great detail to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Mental health is as important as physical conditioning

While hockey players may seem big and tough, stoic and unstoppable, Dr. Asnis points out that mental health concerns are increasingly at the forefront of his and his sports medicine colleagues’ minds. The pressures and stresses on professional athletes are enormous: it’s not just a game, it's a career.

Some of these players are as young as 19 years old, and are dealing with the complexities of social media, increased public scrutiny, dating and interpersonal relationships, and really all the typical challenges that come with being a young adult. These pressures are compounded by the demands of their professional hockey career, sudden wealth, and fears of inadequacy and injury. Mass General Brigham’s sports medicine physicians prioritize not only the players’ medical needs but also their emotional well-being, making sure they feel supported holistically.

“While I am focused on bone and muscle health,” says Dr. Asnis, “equally, or even more, important is that the players are maintaining a healthy outlook and a positive mental attitude. I’m there to listen to any and all of their concerns. I refer my patients for talk therapy and psychiatry as needed. I also impress upon them that a consistent self-care routine is critical – they need to stay hydrated, fed, and well-rested so they can do their best off and on the ice.”

He emphasizes that he never puts the interests of the team, the league, or any other outside party before the personal health and well-being of each player.

Team doctors may coordinate player healthcare remotely and may not always be the treating physician

As the medical director of the Bruins, Dr. Asnis leads the coordination of a comprehensive medical support network for the players under his watch. This includes:

  • Close monitoring of each player’s health and performance.

  • Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of injuries.

  • Supervision and consultation with the Bruins’ other team doctors, athletic trainers, and medical staff.

  • Prompt referral of players (and their loved ones) to non-orthopedic specialists as necessary for conditions or injuries that occur off the ice.

Dr. Asnis and his colleagues from the Mass General Brigham sports medicine team are rinkside at all home games and playoffs, prepared to rapidly assess, triage, and diagnose any health concerns or injuries that come up. During away games in the regular season, Dr. Asnis works closely with the onsite doctors of the opposing teams, all of whom are part of the NHL Team Physicians Association.

He describes the NHL Team Physicians Association as the formal collegial group representing part of the informal national network of sports medicine clinicians he regularly taps into. This network helps him find the closest and most optimal care for his players, regardless of where they are in the country.

“When they’re in New England, I can be confident there is a Mass General Brigham physician that can help with any condition that might affect a Bruin, from the fairly common to the extremely complex,” he says. “But I’m also happy to be the players’ go-to in the off-season for any medical concerns they have. I even have retired players who continue to come to me for care. This is because of the relationship I try and establish as soon as a player joins the team; I’m not simply an orthopedic surgeon on-hand if someone needs an ACL repair – I’m a friend and confidant. Establishing trust is key to my approach--not just with the pros, but with every patient I work with. ”

Because of this implicit trust, players also come to Dr. Asnis with questions and referrals for members of their entourage – friends and family that live or travel with the player.

“Some fans might be surprised to learn that, when I’m at the Garden, I treat not just the Bruins players, but the visiting teams as well,” he says. “As a sports medicine professional, I have to be completely team-agnostic. No matter what color jersey they’re wearing, my goal is always to intervene on behalf of my patients and put them on the road to recovery, quickly and safely.”

Mass General Brigham offers all patients the expert sports medicine care that has been trusted by the pros for decades. Our surgeons, doctors, physiatrists, nurse practitioners and physical therapists work together to provide rapid diagnosis and treatment for every kind of sports injury at each of our convenient community locations throughout New England.

Peter Asnis headshot


Medical Director/Head Team Physician for Boston Bruins