THE SEASON OF STRENGTH
According to Mike Kadar, head strength and conditioning trainer of the Kings, the importance placed on training is the result of the unstable nature of the game.
"There is a low predictability of what is going to happen because one minute a player is skating forward and the next he can be on his back or hit from behind," Kadar said.
Trainers are thus left with the responsibility of constructing off-season programs that work on building explosiveness and functional strength that can facilitate the transition from off-season to regular season.
According to Kadar, "the biggest thing that you have to keep in mind as a strength coach is that hockey is a multi-dimensional sport played on a non-stable surface at a high velocity."
In order to be successful in this unpredictable game, players must use the off-season to get in shape.
"Players have to be ready to go as soon as training camp starts," said Kadar, who served as interm coach of the University of Waterloo women's hockey team during the work stoppage last year. "These athletes can no longer use training camp as a place to get in shape."
Such intensity speaks volumes to the development of the game and how athletes have become evolved into year-round athletes.
The off-season is where an athlete can gain the most strength and it is important for these players to take advantage of their opportunities. After all, there is always someone else who is willing to take it to the next level.
"You have to keep on top of your fitness and strength training because there is always someone a little younger that is pushing you and wants your job," Kadar said.
The importance of off-season workouts is not lost on Kings defenseman Joe Corvo. Corvo, who plays an extremely physical style, said that he usually begins the off-season by resting for three weeks to allow his body to recuperate after a long season.
Kadar also advocates this period of rejuvenation. "There is a transition period where players need to rest to recover and let their bodies heal," said Kadar.
Kadar recommends that players use their own trainers during the off-season to allow for a workout tailored to the individual. Corvo is one player who has taken this advice to heart, hiring a trainer who puts him through a rigorous regimen.
As soon as he is done with his three weeks of rest, Corvo begins a program that has him training six times per week. Two of those days are focused on heavy lifting to strengthen the upper body, with the remaining days being focused on lower body.
According to Corvo, strength training is the most important part of his off-season.
"Over the course of the season, you loose a lot of muscle mass and become weaker, making the off-season workout that much more important," said the defenseman.
The demanding nature of the sport makes it difficult for players to maintain muscle mass during the season because they are playing every other night. Kadar admits "you want the players to not have too many workouts during the season so they can remain fresh and have the biggest chance of succeeding on the ice."
Thus Corvo's goal entering each off-season is to "get back to where I was at the end of the last summer."
In between all of these rigorous weight lifting exercises, his trainer also "goes through exercises that apply directly to the ice such as motion and quickness exercises."
It is essential for athletes such as Corvo to work on motion exercises that build functional strength because of the nature of the game.
Kadar believes that nutrition is very important to strength training and tries to monitor what the players put in their body when they are at the rink. While he does admit concern over what the players might ingest outside of the facility, he concedes they are all professionals who know what is good for them once they have reached this level.
Kadar emphasizes nutrition so much to his players because he believes it "accounts for approximately 80% of a players performance."
Nutrition is also a key component to the regimen, according to Corvo. While he tries to stay away from desserts, he does treat himself on occasion. This just causes him "to work harder the next day."
A player who is not in shape would find it tough to be successful on the ice, a fact that has been compounded this year due to the new rules. These rules are facilitating a more wide-open game where a player's athleticism can truly take effect.
"With the new rule changes, you can no longer hit, pin and hold guys up," Kadar said. " The defensemen are constantly chasing guys around the ice. The skating component has thus increased requiring more of a physical attribute."
This physical attribute, Corvo argues, is something that you have to work on especially in the off-season. He joked that there is no way around the hard work necessary to be successful "unless you are Luc Robitaille and have a thousand career goals."
In all seriousness, he added, "a guy like me on defense has no choice but to keep the workout regimen pretty strict."