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players on the ice
Department of Surgery Hockey team

Most of my nine years as a neurosurgery resident in Toronto were served under the leadership of Dr. Rutka during his tenure as Chairman of the Division of Neurosurgery. I thus had the great pleasure of attending many of the social and sporting events that Dr. Rutka is renowned for arranging. My favorite outings - except maybe for the camping trips - were the hockey matches that Dr. Rutka hosted 2-3 times per year.

Playing Canada’s game with resident and staff colleagues from our division was an important opportunity to strengthen and enrich our relationships. As a junior resident it quickly became clear to me that the hockey rink was an environment free from rank, and all participants played and interacted as equals. It was also an important opportunity for physical fitness and for fun - both of which can be hard to come by as a surgical resident.

Typical of Dr. Rutka’s "only the best" approach, we sported a set of specially-made uniforms for our Division of Neurosurgery. No matter how rough things got in the hospital, neurosurgery residents always took comfort in knowing that Dr. Rutka was looking out for them - and that he thought we were the best as evidenced by the fact that he treated us like the best. The custom-made uniforms were one of the clearest examples of this. And of course Dr. Rutka wouldn’t invite you to play hockey without bringing beverages for everyone to rehydrate with after the game.

Sometimes it was staff vs. residents; sometimes we played side-by-side. We never really kept score. We always had fun. It was usually hard to walk the next day. Most of us wished we could play as well as we did back in Pee Wee… and that our hockey equipment still fit (I favour the viewpoint that it is the hockey equipment that is shrinking!). Particularly memorable were the outings when our foreign-trained residents from nearer the equator participated - generally their first time on skates! Despite his grey hairs, Dr. Rutka routinely skated circles around us on the ice and his sporting prowess was clearly evident at every hockey match. Indeed, he capped off his final game as our Chairman with a hat trick.

It was thus a special occasion when the first hockey outing for the Department of Surgery under his leadership took place on March 31. Participants from all divisions laced up their skates for two hockey matches and reveled in the same comradery long-familiar to us in neurosurgery. Goals were scored, laughs were had and there were no adverse cardiac events reported. Dr. Rutka refereed the first game and then played (and dominated) in the second despite a shoulder injury.

Hockey games with Dr. Rutka have always been about more than just hockey and I think this was apparent to all who attended. Given the success of this initial outing, I am certain that these hockey matches will become an annual event and that participation will become an important source of divisional pride alongside academic productivity.

Thanks Dr. Rutka!

Gregory Hawryluk, PhD
PGY-5, Neurosurgery.

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