Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor with The Hockey News. He brought his philosophy and journalism graduate degrees to THN in 2011 and has been living the dream since. By day he mans his desk, crushing copy and weaving yarns for the magazine. By night he’s either at home or in the press box watching dump-truck loads of hockey.
Ryan Bahl can swear in Cantonese, Czech, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and, of course, English, including a potpourri of American, South African, New Zealand and Australian slang. They’re the first words he learns when landing in a new country, sticks in hand, hockey bag in tow. No matter where Bahl has travelled to play the game – Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America, and even Africa – profanity has proven to be the universal mode of communication.
“If you get into it on the ice, you can just use curse words,” Bahl said. “I try to learn the worst words possible and use them if it gets too heated.”
After 20-plus years of interviews, Shane Doan has had just about every kind of question, good and bad, thrown his way. This one, however, seems to catch him a little bit off guard.
When asked to compare his body to some kind of motorized transport, he laughs at the goofy question. But ever the good sport, Doan gives it some thought and willingly plays along.
“I’d probably be along the lines of a pickup truck that’s going to last a while and going to be multipurpose,” he said, still chuckling. “Hopefully, it’s got a big enough engine that it can pull things.”
File this under the Captain Obvious department: Martin Brodeur owns just about every major record for goaltenders: wins (691), shutouts (125), games played (1, 266), 30-win seasons (14), 40-win seasons (eight), minutes played (74,439)…you get the point.
But one record eluded him his entire career. In fact, no goalie has ever done it, though a few, including Brodeur, have come close. He tried for it every season, and it wasn’t like he couldn’t have done it. The problem was trying to convince the killjoys who called the shots in New Jersey to let him try.
“I always begged my goalie coach, ‘Come on! One year. Let’s do it. This could be a record. I’ll play all 82 games. You can pull me after seven minutes if you want. Just let me start 82 games,’” Brodeur said, laughing. “He never bit on it.”
So you’re in the gym, doing a squat or a lunge, holding an awkward yoga pose or trying to stay upright on a balance beam. Suddenly, your dad throws up a flashcard with five colors on it and tells you to name the color in the middle. But you can’t drop the weight or break the pose. Somehow, while your muscles begin to burn and your balance starts to tip, your mind has the focus to find the answer.
That’s just one of the legion of training tricks Ryan O’Reilly gets thrown his way from his father, Brian, while working out during the off-season. The motivation behind them goes to the heart of Ryan’s training philosophy: combine physical and mental training to imitate game situations so you can adapt to anything thrown your way on the ice.
Ben Prentiss hates using cliches, and he isn’t one to actively pump the tires of his clients. As the off-season strength and conditioning coach for some of the biggest names in the NHL, he’s a no-B.S., all-business trainer.
Which is why it’s hard for him to talk about Jonathan Quick. For the first time in four years, Prentiss had a full off-season to train him properly after Quick became his client in 2011, and he’s really happy with the results.
“He’s in the best shape of his life, he honestly is,” Prentiss said in the off-season. “I just hate to say it, because that’s what every trainer says about his guys at the end of the summer. But he really is…He’s as light as he’s been, he’s as lean as he’s been, he’s super explosive and really strong.”
Gary Roberts had a surprise for his players when they started training with him again this past summer. It wasn’t a sleek new machine, a powerful new superfood or a funky new core exercise. It was far more scientific.
As his NHL clients returned to his gym in Toronto – Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid and James Neal among them – Roberts had each player’s DNA tested. An ex-NHLer himself, he understands players’ mindset when it comes to training and knows they prefer to be shown, not told, what to do.
“What I like is that a player is going to see his own DNA,” Roberts said. “You can tell them something, and they won’t clue in, but if they actually see their results, they say, ‘S—, my DNA doesn’t lie.’ ”
If some gym bro said he works out for half an hour but it takes him almost three hours to do it, you’d probably laugh him off. And you’d be perfectly justified in doing so.
Why, then, is it any different for an NHL player?
Throughout the playoffs, a ton of talk surrounded Duncan Keith and the minutes he logged: 31:06 per game. Fans know that’s a dump-truck load of hockey, but most would be hard-pressed to prove why. After all, numbers-wise, it’s no more than what our gym bro does.
Consider this: Most NHLers average 10 to 20 minutes per game. Only the best play more than 20, while some play fewer than 10. The average shift lasts merely 45 seconds, and players clear the boards 20 to 30 times. All of this occurs over as much as three hours to play an NHL game. Endurance athletes like runners, cyclists and swimmers can go for much longer and do it without pause.
Everyone in the hockey world knows this is one of the most demanding sports to play. Yet few understand what players endure physiologically that makes what they do so difficult.
Imagine four weeks of acupuncture, saunas and hot tubs. There are yoga, Pilates, meditation and tai chi sessions, too. And don’t forget the massage therapists, stretch therapists and chiropractors at your disposal. Oh yeah, and sleep, lots of sleep. It’s mandatory.
Sounds like a blissful all-inclusive vacation, doesn’t it? Except there’s no mile-long white-sand beach or five-star hotel. No sun tanning, sipping margaritas or napping on lounge chairs. Just a gym and a long summer of training ahead.
When NHLers start training in the off-season, they don’t begin by pounding out squats, deadlifts and bench presses. Heck, they usually won’t lift anything for three or four weeks. After eight months or more of hockey, they’re so beat up that strength and conditioning coaches like Matt Nichol and Ben Prentiss spend up to a month just rebuilding their bodies. All those massages, yoga sessions and therapists are just part of the initial process of taking these broken-down jalopies and turning them into finely tuned machines again.