The Hockey News: Inside NHL Training Camps
Inside NHL Training Camps
By Rich Chere
Back in the mid-1980s, the Stastny brothers – Peter, Anton and Marian – looked for an edge before reporting to training camp with the Quebec Nordiques. They found it by reserving ice time on their own so they could work out as a trio.
Two decades ago, that was an eye-opener for teammates who arrived at camp looking to skate their way into shape.
“I remember the Stastny brothers renting the ice on their own before training camp and all they would do is go up and down the ice moving the puck around,” recalled former Nordiques defenseman Claude Julien, who is beginning his first camp this fall as the Devils’ new coach. “They’d stop, argue and then get back at it. They were hard on themselves.”
Peter Stastny, now a Hall of Famer, chuckled at the memory.
“That’s called passion,” he said.
Such dedication set the Stastnys apart, but in today’s NHL no one would be at all surprised. Conditioning is a year-round job and almost no one reports to training camp expecting to work himself into playing shape.
There is too much at stake. Too much money.
“When I first started (in the early 1990s with the Minnesota North Stars) you’d come to camp to get in shape,” said defenseman Richard Matvichuk. “Over the last five years or more, if you’re not in top shape when you come in, you’re probably going to get injured.
“Once you get to a certain point in your career, you have to be ready to go right out of the hop.”
Virtually all NHLers do off-ice workouts all summer long. In fact, teams like the Devils provide players with personal training and nutrition programs for the off-season – and it becomes very evident if they failed to stick to the schedule.
“I don’t skate as much during the summer,” said Devils center John Madden, “but I run and work on other parts of the game that you can’t work on during the season.”
Although players skate on their own and in informal groups in the days and weeks leading up to camp, the official opening is the morning they are required to report for physicals. For the Devils this year, that’s at Codey Arena in West Orange, N.J.
It is still dark when players begin arriving for stress tests, routine exams and blood tests – which can be the hardest part for some. When Scott Gomez was attending his first camp with the Devils, he was in line behind fellow rookie Josh DeWolf. As they started drawing blood from DeWolf, the big defenseman passed out.
Then there is the dreaded treadmill.
“We don’t do pushups or situps on physical day,” Gomez said. “But we do the treadmill test. You have nightmares about that.”
Former Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko remembers even the team’s top players squirming when it came time to get on the treadmill. Hooked up to a heart monitor, the player jogs while the treadmill raises to a steeper position every few minutes.
“We were always nervous before physicals,” Daneyko remembered. “Sometimes we’d be more nervous about that than before a big game. Scott Stevens and I would talk about that. It kept getting steeper every three minutes until you fell off.”
It is also the day most individual photos are taken. After taking a physical exam, players get dressed in the required garb to sit in front of the camera. The Montreal Canadiens have had their players pose in team color turtlenecks and many clubs photograph players in front of their locker stalls.
The Devils, following GM Lou Lamoriello’s strict dress code, are photographed in suits and ties. In fact, they don’t even get to choose their outfit. It’s a dark suit jacket and the same red tie.
No one would deny NHL training camps are physically demanding. Stops and starts and on-ice sprints in those first few days have made more than a few players lose their breakfast. But compared to NFL camps, hockey players have it easy. In the dead of the summer, NFL players have died during drills.
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