Brankley lauded as key to Knights

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

It takes something extra to throw a jolt into David Bolland.

The news that this would be Don Brankley's final season as the London Knights trainer did the trick.

"A few of us were at Jason Allison's place (in Muskoka) a while back when he pulled me aside to tell me," the former Knights forward and Chicago Blackhawks prospect said. "I was like, whoa, it was a real shock. You never think it's going to happen. He's been here forever."

Most of the hockey players and alumni who took part in the Knights' annual golf tournament at Forest City National on Friday expressed similar disbelief and, for some, a touch of sadness that a 38-year era would be ending this season.

"It's a real shame -- I figured he had at least another good 40 years left," former Knights tough guy Kelly Thomson said. "I think the biggest thing about him is the way he treats people. I was a fourth-line guy and a little older when I came here but I got to go and eat dinner with Brendan Shanahan and that doesn't happen without Branks."

Like with Bolland, Brankley tried to tell the news to most of the players he thought he wouldn't see during hockey season rather than them hearing it from someone else. He has prided himself on being the guy the players can call anytime -- even at 3 a.m.

"They always knew where I was," he said. "I remember Brendan Shanahan was playing a game in Los Angeles and he called me after about 3 a.m. our time -- midnight out there. His roommate asked him who he was talking to and Brendan said, 'my junior hockey trainer'. The other player told him he couldn't even remember his junior hockey trainer's name."

Now, OHL clubs have support staffs and various assistant coaches to work with the players. Years ago, the teams had two central figures: the coach/GM and the trainer.

"Things have really changed," ex-Knight Rick Doyle said. "Back then, the coach and GM was the disciplinarian and the trainer was the sports psychologist. He would be the guy who picked your spirits up. That's what Don did. As he has got older, he has calmed down a lot. He was pretty high-strung but he has always been particular and a hard worker. His dressing rooms are immaculate and I feel sorry for the guy coming in after him."

Brankley remains the greatest resource of Knights history. When players want to get in touch with old teammates, they call their trainer.

"He's always been very organized and we have to find a way before he leaves to get everything out of his brain and down on paper," former Knight Dave Simpson said. "He has everyone's number. I had to get a hold of Billy Carroll one time and I called Branks. He keeps in touch with everyone. He's like a heart-and-soul guy on a team that you always need to have around."

Sam Gagner has only been with the Knights a year but he has already been regaled by many of Brankley's stories about his past players. The trainer has been London's enduring link from Ciccarelli to Shanahan to Nash and to Kane and Gagner.

"I think the biggest change will be in how I watch games because I've always been watching from the bench," Brankley said. "After this year, I'll be watching from the outside rather than being on the inside looking out. 11That's going to feel strange."


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