86 : Policing The NHL Ice w/ Riley Cote

Riley Cote is a former professional ice hockey left winger who played eight seasons in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers.  During his career, he was known as an enforcer on the ice.  Riley announced his retirement from professional hockey at the age of 28.  Most recently, he was an assistant coach with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League (AHL) for the past 7 seasons.  Riley is currently focusing on his Hemp Heals Foundation, which promotes sustainable agriculture, sustainable health and clean natural medicine, while focusing on a holistic approach to optimum health through the use of hemp.

I immediately felt a connection to Riley because both of us embraced the identity of being a “tough guy” in our respective sports.  Neither of us would think twice before throwing our bodies around to make a big hit, or in Riley’s case starting a fight. Going into this conversation with Riley, I strongly disagreed with fighting in hockey. In my mind, putting a ban on fighting would be an easy way to avoid dangerous and unnecessary hits to the head, without actually altering the essence of the game. However, by the end of our conversation I formed a much different opinion on the role that fighting plays in hockey.

“If you can instill fear into your opponent, and then someone feels dominated by you mentally, you own them.”

So what makes someone an “enforcer” in the NHL? An enforcer in the NHL needs to be fearless, have the ability to sacrifice their bodies and the willingness to fight anyone, no matter what the size. The role of the enforcer is to create energy in the arena, but more importantly to keep the peace out on the ice and keep everyone in check.  Riley says guys like him are few and far between in today’s NHL because the direction of the game is trending towards speed and quickness.  In Riley’s opinion, the lack of policemen out on the ice has actually led to more dangerous hits. A mutual respect exists between NHL “tough guys”, their teams and their opponents, even after getting their ass kicked.  “You can put guys in the penalty box all day long, but you haven’t really addressed the problem.” Rule changes in the NHL have also discouraged players to fight.  Riley explained how it used to be that you could fight anyone on the other team and you would both get 5 minutes for fighting, so there was no power play.  After the introduction of the instigator rule, the fight instigator gets 2 minutes for initiating the fight, 5 minutes for fighting and 10 minutes for misconduct. This puts the instigator out of the game for 17 minutes and their team down a man for 2 minutes.  The structure of this rule incentivizes players to turtle.  This comes into play when an enforcer retaliates for a cheap hit that was dished out by the opponent.  In that case the enforcer might be putting his team in a vulnerable position to serve their role as the policeman. 

“To me, a fight was like a goal”

Riley wasn’t always an enforcer out on the ice. He chose to start playing more aggressively while in juniors due to the fact that he was highly observant and aware of the guys who were getting the call up to the NHL. To make into the NHL, Riley knew he had to be aggressive and had to keep fighting in juniors. When talking about his NHL dreams while growing up, Riley said, “If I wouldn’t have done that [played as an enforcer], I would have maybe been a 3rd line American League Hockey Player.”  He achieved his goal of reaching the NHL, because he embraced the enforcer identity out on the ice.  According to Riley, he was top 3 in fighting in whatever league he was in.  A shift without a fight or a hit was an unproductive shift. Fighting not only caused a lot of wear and tear physically for Riley, but also mentally.  He felt like he was in a constant state of fight or flight.  Every game he had to be mentally prepared to fight someone, which caused a lot of stress and pressure on him, even when there wasn’t a fight. 

Riley has been a cannabis user since he was 15 years old and although he wasn’t always aware of the science based evidence of its benefits; he recognized the relief it gave to his anxiety.  Riley partially credits cannabinoids and cannabidiol (CBD) for his improved health after his playing days.  He also credits his current brain health to the use of cannabis throughout his career.  This experience has fueled the passion behind Riley’s organization called Hemp Heals.  Riley never expected to retire at 28, but he felt that he was always nursing something during every practice.  Looking back, Riley feels that his heavy lifting caused a lot of problems to his physical body.  He recommends that current athletes focus more on bodyweight, plyometric, speed & agility workouts, yoga and healthier eating. Riley noticed a huge difference after transitioning his active lifestyle to this format during his retirement.

In this episode Riley also talks about the huge change in identity he had after his retirement.  Removing the toxic and introducing the healing into his life aided in this transition.  This includes not only people, but food as well.  Riley endorses hemp seeds as a great source of protein.  Athletes need to think of their body as their moneymaker.  Just like how you wouldn’t put regular fuel in a sports car, you shouldn’t put low-grade fuel in your body because eventually, it will break down like a car.  Fortunately, athletes have many more resources today to optimize their health, such as sports performance coaches, wellness coaches, sleep doctors and sports psychologists. However, as a coach, Riley finds that most of the young guys still think they are invincible and don’t take advantage of these resources.  Going back to the car example, you can’t maximize your car’s longevity by only taking it to the mechanic when it is broken.  You need to take the car for its regularly scheduled maintenance to prevent problems down the road (no pun intended… see what I did there?).

During our conversation, I was very curious to learn about what preparation went into a fight, how a fight is started, and how a winner of a fight is determined.  Riley explains these dynamics in detail during the interview.  Although Riley said he wasn’t a technical fighter, he still trained Brazilian Ju Jitsu and Standup Greco-Roman wrestling techniques.  The fights themselves could happen as simply as just asking an opposing player to fight.  It’s not always that easy, though. If the other player refused, Riley would sometimes have to force the fight.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how the fight starts because there will always be the adrenaline factor and an energized atmosphere in the arena.  When it comes to determining a winner there is often a big difference between the crowd and the players take on the outcome. No matter the outcome, no one wants to see each other badly injured.  According to Riley, inflicting injury is not the objective of a hockey fight.  Riley stated that he never wanted to put someone out of a game or even a practice because of a fight but injuries, and sometimes-serious ones do occur.

Some of Riley’s Injuries throughout his career, where he averaged one surgery a year, included:

  • Two knee injuries
  • Two separated shoulders
  • Torn wrist and Finger Tendon
  • Two eye surgeries (I later ask about the stigma associated with eye shields in the NHL)
  • Two nose surgeries
  • Broken foot

Riley described himself as a fringe-roster player, which pressured him to play through many of these injuries because he knew he couldn’t give up his spot.

The one possible regret that Riley has from his hockey career is that he wished he did a little more hockey playing and a little less fighting.  His advice to upcoming NHL “tough guys” is to work on your hockey skills because there is not much room for players like him anymore.  Although it is easy to demonize fighting as it’s seen as “barbaric” when looking at it politically, Riley believes something has to slow the game down to make the game safer. That something used to be fighting.  Fighting in hockey might not be as detrimental to player safety as we might think.  In this quest to improve health & safety in sports, I think it is important to think about ideas such as this to truly make the lasting impact we have set out to accomplish.




WEBSITE | music festival ticketsFACEBOOK | Twitter



Download Episode 86 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

85 : The Power Of A High Five, Roy Tuscany

Roy Tuscany is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the High Fives Foundation, whose mission is to support the dreams of mountain action sports athletes by raising injury prevention awareness while providing resources and inspiration to those who suffer life-altering injuries.  In 2006, Roy suffered a life-altering injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down and was the catalyst to the creation of High Fives. Roy turned the financial and community support of his own recovery into a ‘pay-it-forward’ adventure with the creation of High Fives non-profit foundation.

After earning degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics from the University of Vermont in 2004, Roy decided to take two years to pursue his true passion of being a professional free skier before putting those degrees to use. Just before his two years were up, on April 29, 2006 he had a skiing accident that changed his life forever. During our podcast recording Roy takes us through the moment when he went 130 feet on a what should have been a 100 foot jump.  He landed from about 30 feet in the air and the resultant impact with the ground caused him to fracture the T-12 vertebrae in his spine.  Upon impact, Roy thought his legs were shot through his body and and he was sure that his legs were coming out of his shoulders. This injury left him without any motion, feeling or any ability to move his lower extremities below his belly button.  This was a start to a new phase of his life.

During our conversation, Roy talks about a way for listeners to experience what it feels like to have paralysis. Make a fist and put it on a solid surface or table and then try to lift your ring finger up.  It is nearly impossible. Give it a try.

"Whatever Roy puts into this recovery, Roy will get in return."

Roy believes he overshot the jump for a number of reasons, which includes, not doing a speed check that day (I couldn't find a good video example of this, but Roy explains in the episode), a new pair of wider skis with a fresh coat of wax and the snow being harder in the morning. All of these factors combined resulted in increased speed.  Roy remembers being immediately devastated, but that didn't affect his sense of humor because he was joking with one of the EMT's about going to a sushi dinner later that night.  Roy's positivity throughout his journey has been a staple in his recovery and in High Five's culture today.

Not long after Roy arrived at the hospital, a radiology tech told him that he crushed his vertebrae and that he will never walk again.  This scene is all too common throughout the podcast interviews I have done to this point.  Roy calls these "instances of verbal diarrhea".  I think thats a great way to put it.   Fortunately, his surgeon took a more positive approach when he talked to Roy, by saying "Whatever Roy puts into this recovery, Roy will get in return."  When the surgeon came into check on Roy after surgery, Roy gave him a high five.  Later on in the podcast interview, Roy talks about how it is literally impossible to have a negative thought while giving a high five.

"Surrounding yourself with A positive community and finding individuals that want to help you succeed, that's what really pushED me through those hardships throughout the recovery."

During the rehab process, Roy made some great strides, but had a few complications along the way. Roy's achilles tendons shortened by two inches and he could only walk on the sides of his feet.  This forced him to wear Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFO's) which caused painful sores on his feet. AFO's provide support where there is instability.  Like many athletes, Roy saw massive peaks, valleys and plateaus throughout his recovery.   He relied heavily on his positive support system during the low points and specifically named his trainer Wayne Burwell "the most amazing human I've ever met in my life," and one of his physical therapists, Ladd Williams.  Roy also looked back on some of the lessons he learned from his legendary high school cross country coach. Coach Kerrigan's influence on Roy's recovery was, "regardless of whatever your expectations are, use the expectations of others to fuel your push." 

Kaizen - a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc.

"I have ridden the horse hard and put it away wet a few too many times."

Roy's focus throughout his recovery was always getting back on the mountain.  Roy got back on the mountain in 2008 and learned how to approach the mountain from an adaptive perspective as a "four tracker" (pictured above). Unfortunately, this new approach on the mountain wasn't completely injury free. On one particular run, Roy's ski got stuck in the snow in such a way that it caused a bad enough break in his femur to require 13 screws, a floating screw and 2 plates (x-ray right).  This injury turned out to be a much more painful recovery than the spinal cord injury due to spasticity. 

Roy doesn’t ski as much anymore and instead, he looks for activities that bring him joy but don’t have the risk factor.  Skiing he says, no longer lights the entire flame for him anymore because he is afraid of having another catastrophic injury.  You can hear it in Roy's voice during this episode that surfing is now something that lights the entire flame for him these days.

"Would my Mom want me to do this?"

At the end of this episode Roy and I discuss the Origin of High Fives along with all of the amazing programs and initiatives they offer.  Below you will find some of these topics of discussion:

  • Origin of the High Fives Name
  • High Fives injury prevention program (BASICS)
    • B(Being) A(Aware) S(Safe) I(In) C(Critical) S(Situations)
    • BASICS is a series of videos that interview athletes who suffered life-altering injuries in mountain sports to promote smart decision making and preventing others from making those same mistakes in the future.  Although these are focused on mountain sports, there are direct correlations to improving safety in all sports.  Personally, my life altering injury fit into the Ego vs Intuition category listed below.  I highly recommend watching the video below.
      • The Five Critical Mistakes that lead to life-altering injuries:
        • Speed
        • Shooting in the Dark (entering a situation without any prior experience or knowledge)
        • Dropping Your Guard (letting your guard down in an environment that seems non-threatening but has consequences every bit as real as the most risky of places)
        • Know Your Line
        • Ego vs Intuition (not listening to your gut response intuition and instead letting your ego lead your decisions against your own better, deeper knowledge)


#HelmetsAreCool focuses on helmet usage and safety while highlighting High Fives Athlete Danny Toumarkine’s recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury he suffered while snowboarding without a helmet along with three other featured athletes.

In our interview, Roy says a good way to get someone to wear a helmet is to ask them if they put a protective case on their laptop or phone because why protect that and not your head? You only have one brain.


#KnowYourPark is the fourth installment for the High Fives Foundation B.A.S.I.C.S. Program Service. #KnowYourPark is a 22-minute public service announcement filmed and edited in a ski documentary format to educate young snow sport athletes about the inherent risks and rewards of skiing and riding within the terrain park. The film is endorsed by the National Ski Patrol Safety Team and highlights the importance of terrain park safety through five core values: Protection, Conditions, Terrain Park Features, Personal Ability, and Terrain Park Etiquette.

  • The Empowerment Fund - The empowerment fund provides resources and inspiration to those who have suffered a life-altering injury. Life-altering injuries are injuries such as spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, amputation or other mobility-limiting injuries that occurred in an athlete’s lifetime. The resources and inspiration we provide come in the form of board-approved grant funding paid to service providers in nine funding categories: living expenses, insurance, health, travel, high fives healing network, adaptive equipment, winter equipment, and “stoke” (positive energy, outlook, attitude).
  • CR Johnson Healing Center - The CR Johnson Healing Center is a 2,800 sq/ft training facility providing resources for athletes in recovery from life-altering and sport related injuries. The Healing Center attracts over 3,720 visits a year from community members and High Fives Athletes.
  • Military to the Mountains - M2M is a High Fives program service demonstrating our deep sense of appreciation for the men and women who serve our country in the military — specifically for those veterans who have suffered life-altering injuries in the name of loyalty to America.  Injured US military veterans are provided the opportunity to train at a 9-week program at David Vobora's Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas, Texas and Paralympic Sport Reno in Reno, Nevada to prepare for a week of skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, instructed by Achieve Tahoe adaptive ski program — 100% fueled and inspired by the High Fives Foundation.

I found Roy's story through our former guest, David Vobora's Instagram.  Vobora was surfing with Roy and his crew at High Fives.  After doing this podcast for close to 2 years now, it is interesting to me to see how small of a world this sports health & safety community can be.  However, it shouldn't be that surprising as all our stories are similar in many way.  The communities at David Vobora's Adaptive Training Foundation and Roy's High Fives Foundation are both cultivated on inclusiveness and that anyone can be a part of it.  It is amazing what can come from individuals trying to prevent the suffering of others and I hope that one day this podcast can be thought of in the same light as these two incredible dudes.

WHERE CAN YOU support the High Fives Foundation?




Download Episode 85 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

84 : Blood Flow Restriction Training w/ Johnny Owens, MPT

Johnny Owens is a Physical Therapist who currently serves as the Director of Education at Owens Recovery Science. Previously, Johnny spent 10 years as the Chief of Human Performance Optimization at the Center for the Intrepid (See Video Below).  Here he treated service members, including Ryan Miller from Episode 79, who suffered severe musculoskeletal trauma. I heard Johnny speak at the AMSSM conference this past May in San Diego and was amazed by the incredible knowledge he was sharing on Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) and the implications it has for athletes recovering from injury.  Johnny has been published extensively for his work with BFR in the peer reviewed literature and his work has been featured on 60 Minutes, Time Magazine, NPR, Discovery Channel and ESPN.  I have no doubt many of the athletes who listen to this episode can benefit one way or another by adding BFR to their rehab protocol or training regimen.

As many of you know, I have been rehabbing from an Osteochonral Autograft Transfer (OATs) surgery I elected to have back in January of 2016.  I have been struggling with moderate to severe kneecap pain and atrophy  since 6 months out from surgery.  The pain has diminished greatly since working with Dr. Danielle Clarke over at Parabolic Performance and Rehab in Little Falls, NJ. However, when I heard Johnny talk about BFR at the AMSSM conference I first thought, I need to get this guy on the podcast and then thought, this could be a potential solution to my lingering knee pain! Johnny told me he thought I would be a good candidate for BFR training.

For athletes like me who can't build muscle through lifting heavy loads because it is painful, the anaerobic properties of BFR training have been found to stimulate a similar biological response in the muscle with much lighter weights.  In the above picture, I am performing a step-up with a slow eccentric descent.  Trust me, you have never felt muscle fatigue until you have tried BFR.  It's a deep burn (Insert Ron Burgundy voice).  The single leg squat on the Total Gym is by far the most difficult and uncomfortable, but after having limited use of my quad for over a year, it's also glorious. Since recording this episode with Johnny I have been doing BFR on my leg for the past 3 weeks at Edge Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine.  Considering the large number of physical therapy practices in my area, most of them do not have Owens Recovery System certified PT's.  You can find a list of certified providers in your area on Johnny's website.

Since working with Lawrence and Johanns at Edge, I can definitely feel a big difference in the strength of my left leg. Normally when I go out for a ride on my road bike or do some intervals on an Assault Bike, my non-surgically repaired right leg feels like it is doing all the work.  However, I feel much more symmetrical in the last couple rides and workouts I have done. I am excited to see the progress in the coming weeks.  Keep an eye out for some videos on social media of my BFR training.

Below you will find notes on my interview with the BFR legend himself, Johnny Owens:

  • BFR is an individualized tourniquet system and is meant to reduce blood flow into an extremity.
  • If you are able to exercise at a low blood flow, you can use lighter weights to get similar results that you would expect from lifting heavy weights.
  • BFR isn't as new of an idea as you might think.
    • Early physiology studies from decades ago look into anaerobic muscle response.
    • Yoshiaki Sato noticed bigger pump effect with BFR.
  • Population
    • Perfect for person recovering from injury because those patients cant handle heavy loads.
    • Geriatric population.
    • Battling sarcopenia after 50, body doesn’t respond to muscle protein synthesis.
    • Athletes in season, won’t beat up the body.
  • Both lower tourniquet pressures have an effect and high pressures have an effect.
  • Why not just use a tourniquet?
    • Clinically you can’t ignore the tourniquet literature.
    • Wide and tapered devices to avoid pressure gradients.
  • Contraindications list:
    • Cardiovascular compromised
    • Cancer
    • “Sick person List”
    • Young pediatrics
  • Certification process
  • The science:
    • Who wins?
      •  lifting light or lifting light with a tourniquet?
        • Tourniquet
    • Johnny believes lifting heavy still wins overall, but not everyone can.
    • Increase in lactate
    • Growth hormone elevation
    • Proximal changes around the tourniquet
      • Ex. Quad gets so fatigued that the glute has to work harder
        • Downstream fatigue effect
  • Johnny’s work with Active Duty service members starting back in 2004
    • “The best and most honorable experience I had in my life”
    • Limb salvage population
    • Needed a strength and hypertrophy response and that’s where BFR came in.
    • What goes into the decision to save or amputate a limb?
  • Loading is going to make you bigger and stronger overtime
    • Once you are injured, the body goes haywire
  • Attitude is number one on the list in leading to successful injury outcomes
  • Identity struggles for athletes and veterans
    • How Psychologists and Nutritionists can help in this process.
  • It was hard to ever feel bad for yourself at the center for the intrepid.
  • Johnny's story of 3 ACL injuries:
    • Grew up in west Texas and was the son of a mechanic (That just sounds tough).
    • Played High school football in the same district as Permian High School from the Book "Friday Night Lights".
    • Eventually gravitated to soccer:
      • Blew his knee out playing soccer on a non-contact play in the rain.
      • Eventually re-tore the repaired knee.
      • Johnny talks about the evolution in ACL surgeries and treatments since his initial injury.
      • Got hit by a car and tore it a third time while at The University of Texas at Austin.
  • The third injury was an eye opener for Johnny, because he realized he couldn’t rely on becoming a pro soccer player.
  • Johnny's advice to athletes going through the transition to life after sports is, "what you do does not define who you are".
  • Why staying at the Center for the Intrepid was “Fail better” and how athletes should seek out non-health-hazardous opportunities that makes them uncomfortable.
  • The definition of toughness from the son of a West Texas mechanic.


WEBSITE | InstagramFACEBOOK | blog



Download Episode 84 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud