As L.A. begins its quest to become a dynasty, the Kings' biggest off-season move didn't come on the ice – it came in the gym.
You won’t recognize the name Matt Price, and the Los Angeles Kings are just fine with that.
Despite being hockey’s Hollywood team, the Kings are less glitz ’n’ glamor cool and more blood ’n’ guts tough. And as their new strength and conditioning coach, Price brings the same no nonsense, no excuses attitude that’s been L.A.’s M.O. under GM Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter.
As the team that’s played the most games in the NHL since 2011-12, the Kings have a ready-made excuse if they fail to repeat as champs this season. But don’t hold your breath waiting for them to use it. They prepare to play 110 games per season, and it’s now Price’s job to have the players as durable and resilient as they’ve been the past three seasons.
“There’s no question that a short off-season is not ideal, but there’s still a window of opportunity there to get recovery and to get yourself back in shape for the next season,” Price said. “It would be an easy copout to say that we had a short off-season and we’re not able to get ourselves back into shape.
"But I’ll tell you right now, that explanation does not fly here. There’s a high level of expectation. And all of those things – they don’t fly on Dean and Darryl’s radar.”
Price, who was brought in after his predecessor left to be closer to his family in Alberta, comes to the Kings with a playing background.
He was taken in the first round (14th overall) of the Ontario League draft in 1995 and played 238 games over four seasons with Kingston and Sarnia. He moved on to Acadia, where he earned his bachelor’s in kinesiology and played four years of university hockey before finishing his playing career in 2003-04 with one season of semipro in the Central League.
Now 36, Price admits it was hard for him to quit playing hockey in his mid-20s, but getting hired by the Kings has fulfilled his childhood dream of making it to the NHL.
“To have the opportunity to come in and work every day with an NHL team, to wear the logo on your uniform somewhere and be a member of the team, it’s absolutely a dream come true," he said. "It’s an absolutely privilege to be part of, not just any NHL team but arguably the best team in the NHL.”
After leaving the ice, Price went on to complete a master’s in kinesiology at the University of Calgary when he got his first big break. Canada’s alpine ski team hired him in 2007 to train its men and women’s teams, a job he held until last spring.
Unlike his new gig with the Kings, however, in which he’d had a whole career in hockey, Price had never skied before. That didn’t seem to matter to those on the ski team. They just dumped him on a 10,000-foot mountain in Chile and told him to find his way down.
“They strapped me into skis and said, ‘Go figure it out,’ ” Price said. “It was a stressful first day. That was my first time on skis. Fortunately, having a skating background, with skiing you can at least stay on your feet. I don’t think I got many style points, though.”
Price (@MPriceStrength) spent on average about 270 days per year on the road all over the world with the ski team. So he knows the life of the travelling athlete well.
In Los Angeles, he’ll be treated to first-class travel in a first-class organization where fitness is taken very seriously from top to bottom. (Lombardi works out two hours every day.) He has been on the job for just a few weeks, but he’s already come away impressed with the level of fitness and commitment from the players.
“There are a lot of things that get done here that are consistent with championship teams,” Price said. “Dean’s very in tune with fitness testing, what the numbers mean and how that correlates with performance, and it’s the same with the coaching staff. The expectations are very high…
"This is an area that sometimes can get the courtesy treatment at little bit, but here it’s certainly at the forefront.”