December 1, 2003
By Christine Klein
Jim Pizzutelli might not be one of the most recognizable faces on the Buffalo Sabres bench but he is one of the most important. As the Sabres head trainer and massage therapist he is the guy running on the ice every time a player is down on the ice and he is the guy the players go to whenever they have an ache.
He has been on the bench for 1,500 games and has had to run onto the ice to help a player in almost every one of those games. Out of the hundreds of players he has helped throughout the years there is one that stands out in any hockey fans memory, Clint Malarchuk, a former goalie of the Sabres.
It was March 22, 1989 when there was a scramble in front of the Sabres net, which resulted in a skate cutting the jugular of the goaltender. While blood spewed onto the ice Malarchuks life was hanging in balance. Pizzutelli jumped onto the ice, and applied pressure to the goaltenders neck, until the ambulance arrived. If it wasnt for Pizzutellis quick reactions it is safe to say Malarchuk would not be enjoying retirement now.
Of course I was scared, but I knew what to do, it is my job to make sure the players are taken care of until they can see a doctor, said Pizzutelli.
Pizzutelli began his career with the Sabres AHL affiliate the Rochester Amerks. Pizzutelli is a native of Rochester and spent four years working on the bench of the minor league team, 1980-1983 as an assistant to the trainer and 1983-1985, as head trainer. In 1985, Pizz as he is known around the locker room accepted the job as head trainer and massage therapist of the Sabres.
As a young man, Pizzutelli did not expect to become a trainer for a professional sports team. Out of high school he entered the United States Army. As a member of the Army, Pizzutelli served in Vietnam. After leaving the service, he became a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association and is also a licensed massage therapist.
During his time with the Buffalo Sabres, he has worked with some of the best players, including long time captain, Pat LaFontane, and Legendary goaltender, Dominik Hasek. He has been a on the bench through some of the best seasons and has been there for some of the worst.
It is Pizzutelli who has looked into the eyes of the strongest athletes as the have screamed in pain or unconscious on the ice. He has searched the ice for countless teeth, and even some body parts.
Just last season Pizz had to run on the ice when Jochen Hetch was hit on the side of the head with a stick, resulting in the loss of part of an ear.
He was the first person on the ice when former team captain, Pat LaFontane broke his jaw, by getting hit in the face with a puck.
The game is getting uglier every season. There seems to be more sticks to the head then ever before, said Pizzutelli.
Game day begins around 8 or 9 AM at the arena where Pizzutelli treats aching players before they participate in
pre-game practices. After practice there is a waiting line for his massage table.
Hockey is a hard hitting game, these guys always have something bothering them, said Pizzutelli.
During the game, Pizzutelli can be seen standing on the bench with the coaches, he has a pack around his waist with the essentials, gauze, butterfly stitches, band aids, scissors, latex gloves, a towel and tape.
In between periods, he is in the locker room cleaning up cuts and checking out bruises. In his 20 years as a professional trainer he has taken care of countless beat up players.
Pizzutelli has also had the honor of being named trainer of the Canada Cup Tournament in 1991 and in 1996 Lindy Ruff named him trainer of the NHL All Star Team.
Pizz currently lives in East Amherst with his wife, Louise, his son, Jimmy, his daughter, Kristina. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends, which is difficult because from September until May he is on the road with the Sabres at least a couple of times a week. When he gets the chance he loves golf and occasionally can be seen on the greens with some of the players. At 48, Pizz has established himself as a life saving crucial member of the Sabres staff.