GLENS FALLS -- When he took Lauren Carruthers on as an intern, Phantoms' head athletic trainer George Sporing had a pretty good idea what he was getting. Wouldn't have accepted her otherwise.
The rough and tumble world of minor-league hockey is a man's world with few exceptions, especially in the inner-sanctum of the trainer's room. To be a college-aged woman in there is to be a stranger in a strange land.
It takes a special breed, and Carruthers, a former three-sport athlete at South Glens Falls, seemed to have the spunk to give as good as she'd certainly get.
Still, he had a few reservations. So for her first hands-on assignment, Sporing had Carruthers tape the knee of veteran Denis Hamel, an understanding sort.
Hamel came on the ice, holding his knee and pretending the wrap was too tight for him to skate.
"I'm not the person to not joke back," Carruthers said. "So I told him, if you keep doing that I'm going to tie it tighter next time."
Yeah, Sporing thought, she's going to do just fine.
Carruthers, a junior exercise science major at Towson University in Maryland, has been interning with the Phantoms since Dec. 18, taking advantage of an unusually long semester break that lasts until the end of January.
She's in rare air.
According to Sporing, there are no female athletic trainers or assistants currently working in the NHL or AHL. He said Carruthers is the only woman to intern with a trainer in the league this season.
"I'm definitely in their territory, so I felt like sort of an invader at first," Carruthers said. "But they've all been really good. They joke around with me, they bust on me every once in a while, but I expect that.
"I don't expect them to be, ‘Oh, there's a girl in the room, be nice now.' I don't want to make them act differently just because I'm there. I have to realize I'm a girl in their world, a completely male world. I've had no problems."
Carruthers is the first woman in recent memory to stand on the Phantoms bench during a game. She made her debut on Dec. 29 against Manchester.
Typically, the players didn't let it go unnoticed.
"They're all like, ‘You on the bench tonight? Better watch your teeth! Better watch your face!' " Carruthers said.
Although she studies in a somewhat related field, Carruthers had never done athletic training before the internship. She's done a good bit of watching and errands like fetching ice, but there's been plenty of serious work, too, from helping a bloody Brian Stewart get stitched up on her first night, to tending to a woozy Marc-Andre Bourdon in the locker room, to the longer-term project of helping Stefan Legein rehab his shoulder.
Sporing even briefly left her alone on the bench New Year's Day as he worked on Bourdon in the locker room.
"That was a little intimidating," Carruthers said. "I was out there by myself. I was like, ‘Uh-oh.' "
Sporing said she's carried herself well, and the barriers for a woman pursuing a career in hockey are lowering should she pursue one.
"The biggest problem with it isn't the lack of ability, obviously, it's more of the way the facilities are set up, not conducive to having a female," Sporing said. "That's changing. It should be changing. There's enough highly qualified women and Lauren's a great example, very qualified, very able to do this job."
Carruthers played high school soccer and basketball and was a big part of the South Glens Falls softball dynasty that went to several state playoffs, but she decided to forgo sports in college.
Soon, she found herself missing them, living vicariously through her athlete roommates. She decided to change majors from forensics to pursue a physical therapy career.
Carruthers is using this internship to decide whether to add the extra years of schooling necessary to add her athletic training certificate. Regardless of what she decides, this experience has solidified that sports will always play some role in her career.
"Sports have always been a huge thing in my life. I've always played them since I was a little kid... I don't want to give it up," Carruthers said. "I can't not do it."