To Sherwood “Sherry” Bassin, hockey is a way of life. 

“I just love the sport…It kind of gets in your blood,” says Bassin, who has coached and managed teams at all levels for more than 50 years and is the current General Manager of the OHL’s Eerie Otters. “I really enjoyed crafting young people, establishing values for them, and giving them some direction.” 

And part of that direction is training athletes to avoid injuries. 

“By the nature of being physical, there could be injuries. We prepare ourselves but there’s risk in whatever you do,” says Bassin. “The real issue is not the will to win,” he says.  “It’s the will to prepare to win.”

That preparation includes specialized stretching and training designed by a team of trainers, physiotherapists, and support staff, focused on minimizing that risk through exercise and warm-ups. 

The famed coach has won at every level of hockey, but in the 1990s, Bassin found himself preparing to take on a new opponent.  

Game changer 

During his time as the Assistant General Manager of the Quebec Nordiques — now the Colorado Avalanche — Bassin’s body called for a time out.  On flights with the team, he was so uncomfortable that he could barely sit still, waiting for the plane to take off so that he could stand up and relieve his pain.  

Doctors diagnosed Bassin with osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease that results from the cartilage on the ends of bones deteriorating over time. Also known as ‘wear and tear arthritis,’ osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and affects one in ten Canadians. 

“Osteoarthritis is not a condition that typically kills people, but it’s a condition that maims people and changes their quality of life,” says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Veronica Wadey.

Irreversible but treatable 

While there is no cure, there is treatment for osteoarthritis including medications, weight loss and weight modification, walking aids,  and specifically designed exercise and diet regimes. 

“What we try to do is minimize the progression and help keep the body as fit as possible so that the level of pain decreases while enhancing the individual’s quality of life,” says Wadey.

However, if arthritis continues to cause significant pain or disrupt a patient’s way of life, physicians will opt to surgically replace the offending joints. 

After receiving his diagnosis, Bassin had his hip replaced and says the relief he felt was immediate. Before having the surgery, Bassin says that he the pain would keep him awake at night, and later, when his shoulder joints began to deteriorate, he could barely lift his arms. 

“We’re living longer and being active longer…[Seniors] expect a certain quality of life and osteoarthritis is affecting that,” says Dr. John Theodoropoulos, the team orthopedic surgeon for the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Now we’re trying to get people at age 70 back into doubles tennis and walking a round of golf. The expectations that people have and their quality of life have changed in the last few decades.” 

And Bassin — still managing teams and playing tennis at age 75 — is a living example of that. To date, Bassin has had both hips and one of his shoulders replaced and is currently on a wait-list to replace his remaining shoulder. 

“All these procedures have created the opportunity for me to live the lifestyle that I live,” says Bassin. “It’s beyond your imagination what they’ve done for me.”