Lynchburg DPT alums ‘face off’ in NHL season opener – University of Lynchburg
When the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers faced off against each other at Philly’s Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, Oct. 13, a steak dinner was on the line.
“Philadelphia Flyers win, because it’s opening night in Philly,” Dr. Jeff Taylor Jr. ’11, ’15 DPT, the Flyers’ physical therapist and rehabilitation coordinator, predicted a few days before the match. “Plus, we have a friendly, steak dinner wager on the game, so who doesn’t like a free dinner?”
Taylor made this good-natured bet with Dr. J.T. Podell ’15 DPT, his close friend and former classmate in the University of Lynchburg’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. Podell also is director of rehabilitation and head athletic trainer for the Devils.
Taylor and Podell met in 2012, during orientation for Lynchburg’s DPT program. As Podell puts it, they quickly became “inseparable.” Not only were they in the same cohort, they also served as class officers — Taylor as vice president and Podell, president.
“From the white coat ceremony all the way through graduation, we were with each other every step along the way,” Podell said. “Whether it was studying, golf, going to professional symposiums, and even some intramural flag football. This friendship has only continued to get stronger as we grow as physical therapists and adults.”
After graduation, Podell found his way into professional sports first, working in Major League Baseball for five years. He was with the Houston Astros for their 2017 World Series win and then joined the New York Mets.
When Podell saw an opportunity for Taylor with the Mets, he told him about it, and Taylor worked for the Mets from 2019 to 2021. When Podell left the Mets for the New Jersey Devils in 2020, Taylor continued his career in baseball, eventually leaving the Mets for a two-season stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After Podell recommended him for a job with the Philadelphia Flyers, Taylor left the MLB for the NHL. “Our career together has been like no other,” Taylor said, adding, “I’m very grateful for J.T. because he caught wind of the Flyers looking to revamp their medical staff and threw my name in the hat.”
Asked about trash talk heading into the big game, Podell laughed and said, “There definitely has been some trash talk going on, but we all know who’s going to win,” meaning the Devils.
Taylor, whose team hails from the “City of Brotherly Love,” said the banter has been “minimal … because we have the utmost respect for each other and how we’ve been working together for years.
“We may send a couple of texts the day of the game, but outside of that, it’s all love and we just want to see the other succeed.”
Before the game, the two friends and fellow alums had a few minutes to pose for some photos and chat.
“Nothing too crazy, just catching up,” Taylor said. “He’s with his team, I’m with my team. We talked about how cool it was to come full circle — working with the New York Mets together, getting to open a night together in hockey, being in the same cohort at Lynchburg.
“It was just special.”
Although the Devils were favored to win the match, the Flyers pulled off a 5-2 victory, and Podell owes Taylor a steak dinner. While he admitted the wager was largely symbolic, Taylor said, “I’m going to hold him to it when he comes here next.”
There will be more opportunities for friendly competition and free steak dinners as the Devils and Flyers — and their PTs — face each other again on Dec. 3 and 15 and Feb. 25, 2023.
“I hope we at least split, go two and two,” Podell said. “We play [the games] pretty close together. I hope we have time to win the series with them. They’re one of our top rivals.”