Despite the free reign a summer away from the rink affords NHL players, the game has evolved to the point where success on the ice depends significantly on the work put in during the off-season.
And while it’s the team trainer’s job to ensure the athletes remain healthy and fit throughout the season, the onus is shifted to the players in the summer months.
But according to Peter Friesen, the athletic trainer and strength coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, it’s rare these days to see a player come to camp in worse shape than the year before.
“Players are focused more on the longevity of their careers and living a healthy lifestyle afterwards,” Friesen told sportsnet.ca. “There’s no question the guys are focused more on eating correctly and staying in shape. Their attitudes are much more health oriented.”
Although health and fitness wasn’t always a major focal point in the NHL, something Friesen can attest to in his 32 years as a professional hockey trainer, players today can’t afford to take off-season preparation lightly.
“They don’t like to take much time off because of the stiffness and soreness that occurs when you’re out of shape and getting back into shape,” he said. “When they come into camp like that they’ll be so far behind, they’re gonna get hurt or left behind.”
As much as maintaining a productive workout regiment is important in the off-season, Friesen admits that an emphasis on bulking up, especially for younger or smaller players, is often overstated, although it varies from player to player and their role on the team.
“Some guys are interested in putting on bulk, but others are more concerned about body awareness and making sure their body — their ankles, knees and hips — is used in correct fashion,” he said. “I always hear people saying you need to put on 10 to 15 pounds, but if you do that over a summer and come back slower you’ll probably be in the minors.”
Equally as important to a player’s time in the gym is their diet.
The nature of an 82-game hockey schedule – playing at night, multiple games per week, extensive travel and eating meals in restaurants – makes it a challenge for players to stay on track, especially with trainers stressing the need for more natural and organic meats and vegetables and fewer synthetic sources.
One player who caught Friesen’s eye last season for his hard work in the gym and dedication to diet was then-18-year-old Jeff Skinner.
“He’s the total package,” Friesen said. “He sits behind me on the plane so I get a chance to see what he consumes late at night. Most of the other guys are chowing down on crappy food and he’s eating good food. It’s very seldom you ever catching him not eating something healthy. He takes care of himself off the ice as well as on the ice.”
Skinner’s commitment to his health and off-ice workouts – which also includes training with fitness guru Gary Roberts in the summer – coupled with his outstanding skating was a big reason the slight Toronto native was a breakout all-star and Calder Trophy winner despite being the youngest player in the league.