The Doctor Is In

Hockey Helps Pave The Way To The Operating Room For NTDP Alum


Like most college hockey players, Troy Ferguson started life on campus at Michigan State University with the dream of playing in the NHL. But an injury suffered during his sophomore season changed his whole outlook on life after hockey.

"We had an outstanding team that year. Ryan Miller was setting shutout records and we were ranked number one the whole season," said Ferguson, who joined the Spartans in 1999 after being a member of the inaugural class at USA Hockey's National Team Development Program. "I separated my shoulder and tore my labrum around Christmas time, but I was able to finish the year."

The Spartans' season ended with a loss to the University of North Dakota in the Frozen Four semifinal. He had surgery two days later. 

"The surgeons and the team doctor pieced me back together and by next season I was back as good as new," Ferguson recalled. "The care I received put me on a different path. Those doctors became my mentors. They saw something in me and encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine. It was something I had never dreamed of."

After earning a bachelor's degree from Michigan State, Ferguson graduated from MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2008. He completed his surgical residency in 2013, stayed in town and is now part of Lansing Surgical Associates, where his patients include college and pro athletes.

Ferguson credits the interaction with the surgeons that repaired his shoulder with opening his eyes to what it was like to help someone recover from an injury and get back to full health.

"I loved what they did for me. When you have hockey taken away for an injury like I did, and then you have it given back to you -it's a pretty neat gift," he said. "That's why I love surgery. You can really fix things; you can really help people and make them better." 

In his mind, the path to him becoming a doctor was paved straight through hockey.

"I would not be where I am if it wasn't for hockey, USA Hockey and Michigan State hockey," Ferguson said. "It's hard to believe that a sport could do so much for someone, but I owe it all to the game. It was the teams, the players, the coaches and the doors that were opened, the opportunities that I had because of hockey. That led me to Ann Arbor for the NTDP and then to Michigan State. 

"If I am not playing hockey, if I am not exposed to that education and those mentors, none of this happens."

Some of the same skills that Ferguson used during his hockey career-handling pressure and stressful situations-have also proven to be valuable as a surgeon. 

"Surgery can get a little scary and a little intense, and it's kind of a crazy comparison, but it's not unlike under the lights at Munn Ice Arena or with USA Hockey at an international competition. There is a lot of pressure there, too. It's just a different type of pressure," Ferguson said. 

"I have always felt comfortable under the lights of the [operating room]. Probably for that same reason-I have been in stressful situations before."

At Michigan State, Ferguson played four seasons for legendary coach Ron Mason, who was known for preparing his teams to be one step ahead of opponents. He carries those same lessons with him into the operating room.

"That was the genius of Coach Mason, we were so over-prepared for every team we played it was almost like we could read their minds," Ferguson said. "It's the way you have to look at medicine and especially surgery. You better be prepared for each case and the problem that is in front of you, because the outcomes are obviously much better."

Working to improve his surgical skills and techniques is another trait that Ferguson learned from hockey.  

"You put in the work and the preparation as a student and as a resident just like you did at hockey practice every day, and it pays off when the intensity picks up and there is a life in the balance," he said. "To have those experiences to fall back on is pretty nice because it allows me to relax and just kind of handle it." 

The same team dynamic he had in hockey was also part of Ferguson's experience at medical school. 

"You are around a lot of like-minded people who have worked hard to get there and are driven to succeed. It's not unlike being at a Division 1 hockey program where everybody has done something special to get there," he said. "The hours and hours we spent together in class pushing each other, we were really like a team."

Now the father of three kids-Sydney (9), Tyler (8) and Abby (6)-that play youth hockey, Ferguson builds a backyard rink every winter and loves watching them play. 

"They are having fun," he said. "If you have a love for the game you play because it is the greatest sport in the world. But it will afford you lifelong friendships and lifelong opportunities."




Ferguson Recalls Honor Of Being Part Of NTDP's Inaugural Season

It was 20 years ago when Troy Ferguson first heard about the new National Team Development Program that USA Hockey was starting; he knew he wanted to be a part of it.

A dual citizen-his mother is American-Ferguson was playing Junior B hockey in Kitchener, Ontario, and decided he needed to be proactive to get USA Hockey's attention.

"I sent them a copy of my U.S. passport and kind of sought them out," Ferguson recalled. 

After being scouted, Ferguson was invited to the 1997 USA Hockey Select 17 Festival where he had a strong tournament and was offered one of the 46 roster spots for the NTDP's inaugural season. The invitation meant moving to Ann Arbor, Mich., to live, train and play in an environment designed to make the U.S. more competitive on the international stage.

"It was a bit of a leap of faith," said Ferguson, now a surgeon in Lansing, Mich. "No one really knew what to expect. But just like everyone my age, I had the dream of playing in the NHL. I was excited about the opportunity."

The first-year program was based at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube with Jeff Jackson, who guided Lake Superior State to a pair of NCAA titles, as its first head coach. The staff also included veteran college coaches Bob Mancini and Greg Cronin.

"We were treated like gold," Ferguson said. "Between the coaching, the facility with
two locker rooms and a weight room, we were spoiled."  

The NTDP schedule that first season was tough. In addition to international tournament play, the Under-17 and Under-18 teams played against North American Hockey League, United States Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League teams. 

Few cell phones and no social media meant very little interaction with friends and family, yet Ferguson remembers fondly Jackson's compassion "for a bunch of kids away from home for the first time playing some pretty high-level hockey and experiencing new things."

"It was kind of just us and the coaching staff going through it together," he said. "Coach Jackson was the perfect guy at the perfect time for that program. He was very intense, but he understood that some of us would be homesick and some of us had some maturing to do."

"I am proud to say that I was part of those first couple of teams. I have great memories from those years and to see what the NTDP has become and the players and coaches that have come from it, it's really amazing."



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