Feb 1, 2022

By Suzie Cool


When it comes to sports, the first thing we notice is the athletes that we want to emulate. The athletes whose performance transcends the game itself, sets franchise records and makes history. Or it’s the memorable debut that opens the door for a long and storied career.


What many don’t know, however, or simply fail to see, is that there’s an entirely whole different world behind the scenes that helps these players along the way that more often than not goes a little unnoticed.


Whether it’s the coaching staff that helps develop a player’s confidence to take their game to the next level, the strength and conditioning coach that ensures players are in tip-top shape no matter the time of year or the athletic trainer that is always there to take care of a player when injuries occur. These are just a few of the people that are there to help these athletes take their game to the next level.


However, what happens when their own opportunity arises?


We saw that this past week as COVID-19 continued to wreak havoc within the Buffalo Sabres roster and staff when they headed out west for a four-game road swing. As Rochester Americans head athletic trainer Michael Dhesse got called up to accompany the Sabres for their west coast trip midweek, it opened an opportunity for someone that would be breaking some major barriers.


On Friday night as Rochester took on the Syracuse Crunch at The Blue Cross Arena, Amerks assistant athletic trainer Kedryn Orrison Pilgrim assumed head training duties. With Dhesse on the west coast for the duration of the Sabres’ road trip, this meant that Pilgrim would again take on this same task the next night when the Utica Comets came to town.


Orrison Pilgrim was no stranger to having to take on the head duties in Rochester, though, as she had been tasked with it at the beginning of the season and was heavily prepared prior to Dhesse’s departure.


“Surprisingly, no, and I think that’s because at the beginning of the year Michael was gone for the birth of his baby, so I kind of got the chance to run the show earlier.”


Orrison Pilgrim then went on to add, “I kind of knew it was coming. Michael was kind of unsure he was going to go but we prepared as if he wasn’t going to be there. He brought me up to speed on a lot of things just to make sure that I’d be ready for the weekend and then that ended up happening, so it’s good that we did that.”


That in itself made Orrison Pilgrim just the second woman in the American Hockey League to assume head athletic trainer duties throughout the course of a game. Aisha Visram, who is with the Ontario Reign, is believed to be the only other woman in the American Hockey League that takes on this title or works with a team in this capacity.


Prior to the season, Orrison Pilgrim joined the Amerks following two years as an assistant athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she worked primarily with the women's volleyball, men's ice hockey and softball programs. 


Prior to UWEC, she served as the head athletic trainer with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League (USHL) for two seasons (2017-2019). She was also a graduate assistant athletic trainer at Minnesota State University – Mankato in 2016-17 and was an intern athletic trainer before that with UWEC during the 2015-16 season.


Orrison Pilgrim completed her education at North Central College in Illinois, earning a Bachelor of Arts in both Athletic Training and Psychology, as well as completing the College Scholars Honors Program. While at North Central College, she was a member of the women’s collegiate volleyball team for four years and a thrower for the women’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams for a year.


So, it comes as no surprise that having Orrison Pilgrim behind the bench in Dhesse’s absence was seamless and Amerks head coach Seth Appert boasted about how she can handle the lead responsibilities because of the skills and experience that she brings to the table.




“She can handle the lead responsibilities when Michael is gone. She has the confidence to do that, she has the skills and the personality to do that, and our guys respect her a ton.”


Appert knew that Orrison Pilgrim would be a good fit for the Amerks from the beginning. After speaking with a coach she previously worked with in the USHL, Appert now knows firsthand how her work ethic and professionalism would fit into the culture here in Rochester.


“She’s outstanding. It was a great hire by our organization. I knew a coach that she worked for in the USHL and he raved about her, not only about her work and her professionalism, but the fit that she would make into what we want to do with our culture.”


Orrison Pilgrim admits that half the reason she fits so well into the culture in Rochester is because of the amazing group of players, and human beings, she gets to work with on a daily basis.


“I think some of, to our players’ credit, is that they’re amazing humans and great people on and off the ice. That helps because you can’t replace good people. The other part of that is that I’ve been with hockey teams every year and so there’s just something about hockey players that is very welcoming, they take people in really quickly and so I don’t feel like I’ve had a problem with them or any teams in the past.”


After a weekend of back-to-back action for the Amerks and taking on the head responsibilities, opportunity came knocking once more for Orrison Pilgrim over the weekend.


As more and more players continued to enter COVID-19 protocols for the Sabres, so too were staff members who were finding themselves in the same predicament. Which, of course, only meant that Orrison Pilgrim was the next one in line to get her much-deserved call-up to the National Hockey League.


When did opportunity come knocking, though? As soon as Orrison Pilgrim was wrapping up her duties after the Amerks took on the Comets on Saturday night at The Blue Cross Arena she found out about her cross-country trek she was about to make. Making things even more interesting, she would by flying out the very next morning along with a handful of Amerks players summoned to the Sabres Taxi Squad.


“Pretty much after the game, especially with all of the positive tests. I got the official word after the game and so I was kind of running around trying to finish up stuff here, trying to find my clothes and pack when I got home and then we flew out the next morning nice and early.”


While Buffalo continued its four-game swing on Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche, the news would break right before puck drop at 8 p.m. EST. Orrision Pilgrim had been called up to assist Dhesse behind the bench, making her just the third woman in NHL history to hold this position during a regular-season game according to the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society and Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers.


Being a big fan of Twitter, and with the news that broke about Visram just weeks before, Orrison Pilgrim knew the task that she was about to take on.


“It’s hard not to see that kind of stuff, especially because I do scroll through Twitter fairly often. I think for me it’s partly being in the right place at the right time, it was a weird set of circumstances that brought me there, but at the end of the day, they asked me to come and of course I was going to be there.”


With all the added pressure of it being Orrison Pilgrim’s first game in the NHL, and making history to boot, she was extremely happy to share the moment with Dhesse beside her side. Someone Orrison Pilgrim is extremely thankful for giving her her first opportunity in professional hockey.


“Obviously, Michael and I have worked a lot together this year, but to have him there to work with my first NHL game with was awesome. He’s the first athletic trainer that I’ve ever worked with in pro hockey, so that helped a lot, and I definitely would not have been as comfortable if he was not there.”

Not only was it an experience for Orrison Pilgrim, but she had an entire organization behind her that didn’t even realize the ceiling she just broke until the moment occurred. Sabres head coach Don Granato was so engulfed by the chaos of COVID-19 that he didn’t find out until after Sunday’s game of the feat that Pilgrim had just accomplished in silence.


“She is very, very deserving,” said Granato afterwards.


He then went on to add, “I just was informed that she’s only the third female that’s been behind that bench and that’s not enough because there’s so many that are qualified. It’s great that she can kind of lead in that and be a leader and a pioneer in that category. It’s neat for us to be a part of that as well.”


Appert added how cool it was to see Orrison Pilgrim shatter the glass as he has two daughters of his own that he’s hoping are inspired by her story.


“To see her get to go up to the NHL was really cool. As a dad of daughters, you love to see those opportunities that woman are earning because it shows young girls, like my daughters and others, that anything is possible if they become great at something and put their passion into something.”


Even the players, like Amerks defenseman Brandon Davidson, were ecstatic about seeing Orrison Pilgrim reach the next level. Davidson admitted that they’re all a team here in Rochester and Orrison Pilgrim has been a great addition who works her tail off for the players and rest of the staff this season.


“A historical moment really for her and she’s done a heck of a job since she’s gotten in here. She’s a great human being and deserves everything that she’s gotten.”


Davidson then went on to add, “I think her making history the other night was a beautiful thing to watch. I mean, we’re a team here. Not just the players but the coaching staff and the trainers and we all want to excel to the next level. It’s really wholesome when you see a good person like that get to the next level.”


Upon her arrival back to the Flower City just yesterday, Orrison Pilgrim had a few highlights from the days prior. Not only did she make her NHL debut, but Orrison Pilgrim heard from many athletes that she worked with in the past, noting that one of her favorite parts about the experience was seeing the support flood in.




“I think one of my favorite things that came out of me working my first NHL game was the number of former players that reached out to say congratulations. Even from teams that I worked for in my first year that I started working, some non-hockey players, it was just really cool to hear from some athletes that I haven’t worked with in years.”


As Orrison Pilgrim will continue to be one of just two females working as an athletic trainer in the AHL for at least the rest of the 2021-22 campaign, Appert wanted to reiterate the fact that as long as you’re good at your job and treat people the right way, it doesn’t matter your gender.


“Our players don’t care; they just want somebody that is good. Whether it’s a female or a male and you’re really good at your job and you treat people the right way, they’re going to respect you and they’re going to appreciate you.”


With the response that Orrison Pilgrim has seen flood in from former athletes, co-workers, friends, family and many more, we know that Rochester is just one stop on her way to the next level.


She’s truly just hoping that her story will help inspire others to make the leap to follow their passions.

Back to All