Courtesy of Michigan Photography.

When Brian Brewster tore his ACL in high school, the athletic trainer was the first one to help him out. When he injured his knee in college, the athletic trainer was once again right by his side. 

These moments helped convince Brewster that being an athletic trainer was a career worth pursuing, but he didn’t know how much he’d end up getting out of it.  

Today, Brewster has a doctorate in athletic training and is the head trainer for the Michigan hockey team, a job that’s become even more important as the team attempts to navigate the challenges of playing in a pandemic. He couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve been around athletic training for 24 years almost now,” Brewster said. “I found it. I love it. I fell in love with the profession. I really enjoy what I do.”

Brewster started volunteering with the training staff at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2000 before going to Hastings College in Nebraska to earn his master’s degree. In 2005, Brewster was hired to work at Michigan Tech as a member of the athletic training staff full-time. This was where he first met Mel Pearson when he became the Huskies coach in 2011. 

Eventually, Brewster worked himself up the ranks, earning the title of assistant athletic director of sports, medicine and performance for the Huskies. He was in charge of the strength and conditioning staff for several teams and would mentor student-athletes where he could. Brewster was practically a Swiss army knife, possessing the skills needed for just about any task.

Once he started working on his doctorate in athletic training at A.T. Still University, though, Brewster was ready for a change.

When the athletic trainer position for the Michigan hockey team opened up in 2018, Brewster went for it and got the job. One of the people who encouraged Brewster to apply was Pearson — then in his second season as the Wolverines’ head coach. 

“We learned it together,” Brewster said. “Him as a head coach and me working hockey as an athletic trainer full time.”

From there, a special relationship was formed. Pearson always admired Brewster’s personality and professionalism from the moment they met. Trusting Brewster’s decisions when it came to injuries took a little longer.

It can sometimes get tense between the pair when debating the health status of Pearson’s players. Those arguments are in the heat of the moment though. Both Pearson and Brewster are very passionate about doing what they think is best for the team. But when it comes to injuries, Pearson has learned to listen to the doctor’s orders.

“I think we’ve got a real good bond,” Pearson said. “I really respect him. He’s firm with me when he needs to be firm. And he puts me in my spot when I need to be put in my spot. You’re so competitive as a coach that you’re trying to put your best line-up, your best foot forward all the time, but he’s put me in my place so I know not to (argue) if he tells me (a player) is out. 

“I love him. I (just) don’t know if he loves me all the time.”

Injuries are an unavoidable part of sports — particularly a sport as physical as hockey — and despite the care athletes receive, the road to recovery is anything but easy. It can be a long and difficult road back to health, and while a team motors on through its season, the injured player can be forgotten as they quietly work to get back. They need someone to support them on the journey. Brewster relishes that role.  

“The cool thing about athletic training is you’re the first one on the scene, you’re with an athlete through the entire injury process, you go to appointments, you go to the doctor’s visits, whatever it may be,” Brewster said. “But you’re also the last one that sees them and clears them back to full participation. So it’s really the only health profession that is involved in every aspect of the route from injury to return to play.”

Brewster deals with all types of injuries. A majority of them are bruises and sprains that keep players out a few days — which are expected in the slog of a hockey season. When a player suffers a season-ending injury, though, there’s no easy way to break the news.

“The best way is like ripping off a band aid and just be blunt and just tell them,” Brewster said. “It’s hard to say it, I usually have a little shaky voice when I say it, because I feel for them as well. … You’re taking away a piece of them. You’re taking away what they do. And it’s what they love to do.

“Obviously, they can always come back, they can rehab, but it’s a long process and there’s bumps in the road and there’s highs, there’s lows. But we get through it together and they are chatting a lot and you get to know them personally too, because you’re with them a lot. And you find out a lot about them. And it’s a fun process, it’s a long process. I’m sure they get sick of it. They probably get sick of me, but it’s still fun.”

While he has given up the administrative duties he once had at Michigan Tech, Brewster still acts as a mentor for his athletes at Michigan. This season, Brewster is the one always emphasizing the team’s health and safety protocols as they play during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s an anxious time for players, and he’s trying to help alleviate their worries.  

“I just hope they don’t have this stress that I feel every day when testing is done and I’m just waiting for the text to see if everybody’s negative,” Brewster said. “So I hope I’ve been able to take some of the stress off of them from that standpoint, and that they can just focus on their school and their hockey.”

If there’s one thing that stands out about Brewster, it’s that he truly loves what he does. Helping student-athletes stay healthy and recover from injuries is not a job for everybody. For Brewster, though, it’s his dream job, one that he’s had since his high school days. The passion he brings to his work is unmistakable.

“I love athletic training,” Brewster said. “I love the profession.” 

But even if you can’t figure that out, he’d be happy to tell you himself.