It was Day 3 of the Marathon des Sables, and Jeff Smith had barely made it across the finish line after more than 10 hours of running through the desert. He was malnourished, dehydrated and his feet were badly blistered from traversing the Moroccan Sahara for three days straight. And he still had two more to go, including the dreaded double marathon set for the following day. For the first time in the five-day April endurance test, Smith was thinking of quitting. Twenty-five years ago, when he was in his prime as a professional hockey player in the British League, he would’ve had youth on his side. But he was 52, now, and running on two artificial hips, the result, his doctors told him, of more than a decade of playing goal.
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.
Ben Prentiss sees it all the time. Parents come in to his Connecticut gym and expect him to put their child on a path to becoming Jonathan Quick, Max Pacioretty, Kevin Shattenkirk or any of the other NHL stars he trains during the off-season. What they don’t know is that comparatively little training for his high-profile clients involves hockey. In the summer, his guys don’t even hit the ice until late July or early August.
Hockey may be a year-round job for NHL players, but it shouldn’t be for kids. It actually hurts their development in two ways: it decreases their overall athleticism, and it increases the likelihood of typical hockey injuries like torn labrums, hip impingements and groin problems. “That’s a big, big, big problem now,” Prentiss said. “These kids, who are 12 to 15, they’re playing 70 games a year…All they do is play hockey. They don’t get their feet out of skates, they play too many games and they develop an overuse injury.”
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.’ ”