THE CANADIAN PRESS
Whether Rod Brind’Amour’s season ends in June, April or February, one thing always remains constant — he starts training for the next one as soon as he can.
The captain of the Carolina Hurricanes is one of the fittest players in the NHL because he refuses to stop exercising. He turned 38 over the summer and still has three years left on a contract he fully intends to play out.
Brind’Amour typifies the character needed to be a veteran in today’s NHL. In the past, some believed that longevity was best achieved by taking extensive time off over the summer to let the body heal before essentially starting anew during training camp.
That strategy simply wouldn’t work now.
"It’s definitely a year-round job," Brind’Amour said during a recent interview. "I think the guys that approach it that way are the ones that last the longest.
"Especially with the amount of money guys make now, if you don’t treat it year-round you’re foolish."
That message seems to have been delivered to players of all ages.
Karl Alzner is about half Brind’Amour’s age and hopes to crack the Washington Capitals lineup this fall. The defenceman started working with a personal trainer before reaching the Western Hockey League and has tried to keep a strong focus on fitness since.
The 19-year-old is keenly aware of what would happen if he didn’t.
"Even in minor hockey, I noticed that I’d come back after Christmas break — and you know it’s Christmas, you have a couple chocolates here and there and some turkey dinners — and I could barely do a lap around the ice," said Alzner, the fifth pick in the 2007 NHL draft. "We started running track when I was in bantam and started training after that.
"Ever since then, all I’ve been stressed is: `Try to get in good shape, you’ve got to be able to keep up with everybody.’ I’ve been trying to do that ever since I was 15 years old."
The training methods vary by individual.
Brind’Amour likes to get up by 6 a.m. for a bike ride before hitting the gym or going for a skate. Alzner has added more bench press and chin-up exercises to his normal routine that focuses on core strength. Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins is a friend of Simon Whitfield’s and participated in triathlons while taking time away from skating early in the summer.
The key to Jason Spezza’s off-ice workouts is the presence of other NHLers. He’s one of 10 guys that train together at a gym in Toronto over the summer.
"It’s pretty intense," said the Ottawa Senators forward. "That’s why you try to have other guys around you that are kind of working towards the same thing.
"It makes it a little bit competitive and keeps the edge on the days you don’t feel like getting out of bed. You’ve got to beat the other guys."
The 29-year-old Ference believes his generation of players is used to working out all summer long and showing up to training camp in top shape.
However, one change he’s observed over nine seasons in the league is the different approach players now take to their workouts.
"Some guys used to think training was all about going in the gym, pumping iron and getting huge," said Ference. "They forgot they’re not professional weightlifters or bodybuilders — they have to be ready for hockey.
"I think the type of training, guys have maybe adjusted that to be more specific to our sport."
For Mike Cammalleri, that means spending a lot of time on the ice during the summer to keep his skills sharp. He’s another guy that treats pro hockey as a "full-time job," which also means plenty of weight training during the summer months.
The Calgary Flames forward was just 17 when he first started attending the University of Michigan and was introduced to a workout plan. He’s generously listed at five-foot-nine and saw immediate benefits to increasing his strength.
"I’m short by hockey players’ standards," said Cammalleri. "I figured that if I could be as strong or stronger than guys then it didn’t really matter how tall I was.
"I’ve really tried to compensate for my height with strength."
When it comes to strength, Brind’Amour is among the gold standard of veteran players along with the likes of Gary Roberts and Chris Chelios.
He’s about to attend his 20th training camp and has witnessed a change in the overall attitude players take towards off-ice training. When the Hurricanes report on Sept. 19, Brind’Amour doesn’t expect to see anyone who looks like they took it easy over the summer.
"I don’t know guys like that anymore — they don’t last," he said..
Brind’Amour worked out even harder this off-season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that ended his season on Valentine’s Day. The knee feels stronger than ever because he was able to visit a physical therapist several times a week while recovering.
Once it felt better, he started skating as part of his workout plan. With five arenas in the Raleigh area open year-round, Brind’Amour would simply show up and pay $8 to get some open ice time.
"I’ll usually go twice a week for an hour by myself even," he said. "Just to kind of keep on my edges so that when you start training camp you’re not feeling that, like most guys go through, you get the groin (soreness) and everything just feels horrible.
"I find if you just keep skating then you don’t have those problems."
Training camps open around the league next week. Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Tampa and the New York Rangers all start the season in Europe and will break camp a few days earlier than the other 26 teams.
Cammalleri and Ference each plan to use the 20-day training camp to get their timing back. For others, it’s an opportunity to test the fitness they’ve been working on increasing during the off-season.
"They make it difficult on you," said Spezza. "But I think you have to go there with a base because if you don’t, you’re going to find yourself in a bit of trouble and you’re going to get left behind."
One player that never gets left behind is Brind’Amour.
He finds training camp to be a bit of a "waste of time" because he’ll already be in such good shape when the Hurricanes take the ice together again.
"The off-season is harder for me than any time," said Brind’Amour. "I go six days a week and I go pretty hard. Once camp starts, it’s actually easier."