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.
With Emma Mason
Who did you model your game after?
I was always tall and always skinny, so I liked watching players like Ryan Getzlaf and other bigger guys. Blake Wheeler is a Minnesota kid like me, so I watched him when I was younger. There are a lot of guys that I’ve watched in the league that I take little things from, and I definitely keep learning stuff, especially being able to have 1-on-1 time with Jaromir Jagr. That’s probably the best teaching I can get.
What’s your favorite part about being an NHLer? Read more
If you were born before 1980, chances are Youngblood is one of your favorite hockey movies after Slap Shot.
Heck, it might even be your favorite. Whereas the 1977 comedy lampooned hockey’s violence, 1986’s Youngblood portrayed it as a necessary part of the game, while also highlighting hockey’s grace and skill. The film stars Rob Lowe as Dean Youngblood, who leaves his family farm in upstate New York to play junior hockey for the Hamilton Mustangs. Although he can skate and score, he can’t fight. He tries to fit in with his teammates, woos his coach’s daughter and in the end has to stand up to the league’s biggest bully. Thirty years later, Youngblood stands tall as one of hockey’s cult classics.
Adding to its realism were the people involved in the film. Writer and director Peter Markle was a former minor-pro and international player for the U.S.. Cinematographer Mark Irwin donned skates and a helmet and devised a special rig to shoot the movie on ice. Eric Nesterenko, who played 20 seasons in the NHL, was the film’s hockey consultant and also played Dean Youngblood’s dad, Blane. George Finn, who portrayed nemesis Carl Racki, was a former OHL enforcer. Most of the players in the film, such as Steve Thomas, Don Biggs, Peter Zezel and James Richmond, were OHL or NCAA players at the time. Thomas and Zezel went on to lengthy NHL careers.
THN reached out to Lowe, but he declined the opportunity to talk. No matter. Lowe might have been the pretty face in front of the camera, but so many people worked hard to make him look good. This is their story.
It takes expert knowledge to create finely tuned NHL machines. Here are six of the best builders in the business.
Big Clients: Tyler Seguin, Mike Cammalleri, Wayne Simmonds
There’s a lot of noise in the training world, and for an experienced vet such as Nichol, it’s important to straddle the line between innovation and data clutter. “Everything has been about analytics lately, and that has trickled down to sport science and guys like me,” he said. “But the fundamentals are still really important. That has been my revelation.”
Nichol’s first concern when the summer arrives is to make sure his client-athletes are actually ready to perform. He does this through musculoskeletal assessments. Players may come into Nichol’s care with a specific off-season goal – gain five pounds of muscle, increase their explosiveness – but it becomes irrelevant if the client isn’t ready. A bad knee, poor sleep patterns or nutrition and movement issues are barriers that must be dealt with first. So Nichol deals with them, ensuring he is working with “healthy, happy human beings.”
With Matt Larkin
What was your favorite NHL team as a kid?
The Wings. I grew up in Detroit. I liked all hockey teams, but the Wings were just a little bit above everyone else.
Who was your role model growing up?
Nick Lidstrom. I modelled my game after him as best I could. It’s a tough guy to follow, but any time he was on the ice or on TV, I watched him pretty closely.
Why do you wear No. 4?
Bobby Orr was my dad’s favorite player.
What was your “welcome to the NHL” moment?
Not since 1991 has the NHL season ended before June, and with players getting faster and hitting harder with each passing season, the toll on the body has become more gruelling with shorter times for recovery than ever before.
Ask training guru Ben Prentiss, who has worked with everyone from Martin St-Louis to Jonathan Quick, and he’ll describe the season like a car crash. It’s a marathon that exacts such a toll on each player that Prentiss has yet to see a player enter the off-season completely healthy. That means recuperation after an arduous season is a must, regardless of how a player says he’s feeling.
“If a guy starts (training) too early, not only physically is he not ready, but mentally, too. He’s just gone nine months — if his team made the playoffs, seven months if they didn’t — of straight hockey,” Prentiss said. “They need to get out of skates…or they’re going to burn themselves out by the time September comes around.” Read more
By Randy Sportak
Based on his rookie season, Sam Bennett could be in line for a nickname. Or a different set of digits on his sweater.
The Calgary Flames’ up-and-coming center/winger was known as ‘18-year-old Sam Bennett’ during the team’s 2015 playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks (a phrase that apparently drove some Canucks fans absolutely bonkers), and that number followed him to the end of 2015-16. Just check out the stats from Bennett’s freshman campaign: 18 goals, 18 assists and not just one but two 18-game goal-scoring slumps.
It could be enough for a spinoff version of the theory that most events in the world can be connected to The Number 23, and the basis for one of the stranger Jim Carrey movies in his eclectic career.
As Bennett looks back on his first full NHL year and forward to his sophomore season, the biggest element he vows to address is consistency, not so much an indictment on his production but those lengthy goal droughts. “That’s part of my job and part of my role with the team, to generate offense,” said Bennett, who actually threw an imaginary monkey off his back after snapping the first of those goal-scoring slumps. Read more
It was never boring. Before the first puck was even dropped on the 2015-16 season, shocking stories were reverberating through the hockey world and more were on the docket. Sometimes, these plotlines were happy, sometimes they were unsettling. But they definitely made an impact.
We’re well into the summer now, but to encapsulate the 2015-16 season, we have chosen 10 moments that defined the NHL. Some of these stories had quick impacts, while others will continue to shape the careers of the players involved for years to come. We lead off with what was truly a winding and stunning tale, that of John Scott. This season made a player from a dying breed into a folk hero and brought countless hot takes and debates to the fore, leading up to All-Star Game weekend. Some folks complain that the mid-season get-together is pointless, but after what happened in Nashville, it’s hard to agree with that anymore.