CANMORE, Alberta — As of April 3, there are less than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province of Alberta. As a former college player and a youth coach, Kyle McLaughlin puts it into hockey terms with what he is doing now.
"In the preparation phase, it's kind of like preparing for that big game," he said. "You've got to physically learn the skills to do what you're going to have to do to help people and to win.
"Mentally, you have to prepare because what you're going to see is something that you've never seen before. It's the part of emergency medicine that I really enjoy. It's a tremendous challenge."
McLaughlin, 44, played defense for the St. Cloud State men's hockey team from 1995-99 and is an emergency room doctor for hospitals in Canmore and Banff in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada. Canmore is a city of about 14,000 and Banff has a population of about 8,000.
Awaiting the storm
McLaughlin said that he has been put in charge of preparation efforts for the two hospitals as they await the spread of the virus.
"It's really not hit us yet," he said. "Part of what we're learning from other countries is that the really important thing is to prepare. I'm leading a working group right now, trying to get our hospitals ready for a surge capacity plan. Also, how do we manage the critically ill?
"The big risk for us is when we have to incubate or put a breathing tube into a patient and get them to the big trauma centers and intensive care (units) in the city. We're about an hour outside of Calgary, so that's our main referral center. At the smaller hospitals, we're trying to find safe ways for my colleagues in nursing, physicians, anesthesia and paramedics to safely take care of these patients so they don't expose themselves (to the virus).
"If we do have a surge of people, how many people can we accommodate in our hospitals?," he said of patients. "Then sourcing things like ventilators ... it's been a pretty full project for me for the last two weeks. Then one of our physicians is out with a non-COVID issue right now, so I've been appointed the chief of our department right now. It's a busy time for me, but also a great opportunity to use the skills I've learned."
McLaughlin spent seven years working in a trauma center at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary before taking his current job, which he has held for the last 11 years. He also does some sports medicine and, for the last seven years, he has been one of five emergency doctors for the NHL's Calgary Flames.
"I'm back in the dressing room with the players," he said. "I was joking with (former SCSU teammate) Mark Parrish when I got the job that I finally got my first pro paycheck. But not as a player, but has a 37-year-old rookie."
McLaughlin was a biomedical science and chemistry double major when he played for the Huskies. He was a three-time All-WCHA Academic Award winner and was the first St. Cloud State player to earn CoSIDA Academic All-America honors and was a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award in 1999. It was during his time at the university that he discovered an interest in working in an emergency room.
""When I was there, I had some great mentors in Dr. Eric Green, who was an orthopedic surgeon. He took me under his wing in like '95 when I first got there," McLaughlin said. "I was volunteering and shadowing him at his clinic my freshman year. Relatively early on — maybe 6-7 months of me shadowing him in orthopedics — I'd always wanted to do sports medicine and orthopedic surgery. He saw something in me that I didn't see. He told me, 'You know what? I think you should volunteer in the emergency department. I think you'd really enjoy it.'
"Very early on he saw what was probably already in me was that the emergency department suits me. The variability of what you see ... you've got to be trained to handle anything. It's a very stimulating environment. As we're seeing now, it's very challenging."
After his senior season, McLaughlin decided to move on in school rather than play professionally. He met his wife, Carrie, at St. Cloud State and the couple has two boys, Will, 12, and Finn, 14. Both boys play hockey and McLaughlin said he is enjoying coaching both of them.
He also plays some recreational hockey and this season, he played on a team that raised money for Project All In, which helps first responders with their mental health.
"We have a thing in Canada called the Good Deeds Cup, so every peewee team is challenged to do a good community charity contribution," McLaughlin said. "We couldn't have picked a more relevant charity for this year.
"We did a charity hockey game where we had police versus EMS, fire and mountain rescue. It was my first time playing in front of 1,000 people in a long time. I got a lot of heckling from the old Husky teammates because there was a picture of me carrying the puck. Most of the guys thought that was photo-shopped because I never carried the puck when I was at St. Cloud."
McLaughlin had 22 points in 144 career college games.