HERSHEY – It’s not for everyone.
It requires a certain mindset, a specific skill set, a certain lifestyle. As always, experience helps, and being around it from a young age might be the greatest experience of all.
But what it comes right down to is a son following in his father’s footsteps. Or the apple of Dan ‘Beaker’ Stuck’s eye not falling far from the athletic training tree.
Dustin Stuck is the head athletic trainer for Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League. It is a position that his father Dan Stuck held with the Hershey Bears for 32 years, until being promoted to the Bears’ Manager of Wellness and Team Affairs in 2017.
Their story is one of family, hockey and taking care of others. One you simply don’t hear enough of these days.
“It’s emotional,” said Dan Stuck. “When he did get the job with Providence, it was overwhelming, it was exciting. Things happen for a reason. But he got the job on his own. It was earned, not given. He had to sell himself to the people up in Boston.”
“Obviously, he set me up for success by molding me into the type of person you need to be in the training room,” said Dustin Stuck. “Being around hockey, it’s a unique culture. Being around it made me able to relate to the guys.
“This job takes us away from our families a bit,” continued Dustin Stuck. “If I didn’t come to the rink with my dad, I wouldn’t have spent as much quality time with him as I did. Our motto has always been: ‘family first’. This job kind of takes away from that.”
With the 54-year-old Dan Stuck’s position with the Bears, Dustin, 26, grew up in Palmyra and graduated from Palmyra High School. But he also grew up at Hersheypark Arena and eventually Giant Center.
“I started filling water bottles as a boy,” said Dustin Stuck. “I was probably 12, and it was at the Old Barn. I started leaning towards athletic training around 2010, when I was a junior in high school. When college hit I chose my major. I’d come home from college and be his assistant.
“What I remember most was when they (the Bears) won the (Calder) Cup in 2006,” Dustin Stuck continued. “I was with my dad in Milwaukee and it was a cool experience. It made me fall in love with what he does and the game and the hockey culture.”
“This life consumes you, night and day,” said Dan Stuck. “I had an office and I’d bring my son in and he’d hang out with me at work. Before you knew it, he got older and he started coming to games with my wife. When he got to be seven or eight, I had him start filling water bottles.
“He’s seen a lot of the players who have come through here,” added Dan Stuck. “He’s been around the sport. I used to call him a ‘Dehydration technician’, and it made him feel better. He wanted to do the same thing I did. This job doesn’t pay well, but it’s rewarding. You have to make sure you take care of people.”
A native of Hummelstown, Dan Stuck started as a stick boy with the Hershey Bears in 1978. He was the Bears’ assistant athletic trainer in 1981-82, then worked for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1984, before becoming Hershey’s head athletic trainer in 1985.
His current position as Manager of Wellness and Team Affairs is kind of a hybrid position that emerged from his work as the head trainer.
“It’s a revolution,” said Dan Stuck of athletic training. “I think about athletes back in the day and they came to training camp as conditioning camp. Today, players play year-round. They eat much better. They watch what they consume. They get paid good money. In the old days, how they took care of themselves, and how they take care of themselves now is completely different. It could be cloudy outside, but it was always sunny in my training room. And my training room wasn’t always just for injured players.
“It’s maintaining that high-tempo energy level,” continued Dan Stuck. “It’s easy for anyone to have fun when you’re winning. When you’re losing, that’s when people’s true colors come out. It’s about maintaining that high energy and enthusiasm. We shy away from negatives because they are toxic. I’m here to pump their tires. I want to be part of the journey and players don’t forget. You treat people the way they want to be treated.”
“Obviously injuries happen,” said Dustin Stuck. “But when you see a guy you spent quality time with, getting him back and him having success, that’s the most rewarding part for me. When you see all the hard work pay off.
“I also find the most difficult things the most rewarding,” Dustin Stuck continued. “Injuries happen that you don’t expect. With our job, there’s a lot of paper work and things that go on behind the scenes. It’s more time-consuming than people think.”
With becoming a hockey athletic trainer in mind, Dustin Stuck attended Penn State University, where he was the trainer for the Nittany Lion swim team. He is in his first season as Providence’s head athletic trainer, after serving the Bruins in an assistant role over the past two years.
“I take care of injury management,” said Dustin Stuck. “I’m in charge of the rehabilitation of injuries, accute and longer. I am constantly communicating with coaches about which players are medically able to play. My main role is taking care of injuries, and how they’re appropriately managed.
“Penn State is a good school for athletic training and I knew I wanted to be in hockey,” Dustin Stuck added. “I knew what the job required. I was interviewed by Providence and got lucky. It’s not a job. I love doing it. I grew up doing it. I saw how much joy he approached it with each day. You’re surrounded by a bunch of great people.”
“It’s about taking care of people,” said Dan Stuck. “I have built relationships over the years. Everybody knows Hershey for taking care of people. That’s how we get good players. They want to play in front of good crowds.
“I support the majority of the players and coaches, and take care of all their needs,” added Dan Stuck. “I’m still supporting the training staff. There’s a way of doing things and there’s a Hershey way of doing things. What I do now is take care of people, and it doesn’t have to be medical in nature. It’s my job to make sure that people’s stays in Hershey are comfortable.”
The Bears and Bruins play each other six times a season, three times in Hershey and three times in Providence. Each one is sort of a Stuck Family mini-reunion.
“For his sake, he’s very fortunate where he’s at,” said Dan Stuck. “He gets it more than other people. You’ve got to have a work ethic because the hours are long. He was smart enough to realize how much fun I have at this job. It’s a positive environment all the time. There are no Mondays for me. It’s a place you want to go, and you want more of it because it’s addicting.
“The hardest part of it has been missing holidays and missing kids’ events,” Dan Stuck continued. “It’s all consuming. I’m Papa Bear, but I’m also Smokey Bear, because I put out fires. In my career, I’ve only missed four games, and one of them was for my son Dusty’s birth.”
“Any time I come into Hershey, it means a little more,” said Dustin Stuck. “This is where I grew up, watching what he did. Now my dad is kind of watching me. If anything pops up, I call him to get some advice. It helps me do a better job. He’s a great resource.
“I’m very proud of him. I look up to him,” continued Dustin Stuck. “He’s been my go-to person all my life. Seeing how upbeat he is all the time, he helped me be the person I am. But some of that credit goes to my mom as well.”