But as everyone knows, no one’s ever scored a goal from the trainer’s table. And that’s where Gaborik found himself, more often than not, over the previous three NHL seasons.
After playing at least 71 games over his first three seasons, the Trencin, Slovakia native succumbed to frequent and distressing groin and abdominal issues which limited him to 65 games each in 2003-04 and 2005-06, and just 48 games last season.
The frustration was felt doubly by the Wild, as Gaborik played the season’s first seven games, then missed more than two months of action. He returned in early January and finished with 30 goals -- second on the team -- in his limited action.
So over the summer, Gaborik revamped his training regimen, and so far, it’s worked wonders as the Wild winger was named to his second Western Conference All-Star team.
He also had eight points in four games last week to earn the NHL’s First Star of the Week award on Jan. 5. Gaborik has played in 43 of the Wild’s 48 games, and with 25 goals and 50 points, he’s on pace for his first 50-goal, 90-point season.
Of course, he has to stay healthy for that to happen.
“Last year, I was seeing a guy in L.A., Joe Horrigan,” said Gaborik of the Southern California-based soft-tissue specialist. “He was treating me with the groin injury and I got a program from him. During the summer, I did a lot of Olympic lifting, hang snatches, stuff like that. And I added some stuff with our strength coach in Minnesota, a lot of different things. I had a trainer from Minnesota come over for two weeks during the summer, he was working with me and stuff, doing massages and stuff.”
He’s continued the program this season, and in addition to time in the gym and on the training table, he also has changed how he gets ready for games and practices.
“Before practices, before games, I’m having a massage to loosen my groin up and my legs up, have a good warm-up, make sure I’m warm before I jump on the ice,” he said. “Also I work out during the year. If we’re playing at home, or if we have a couple days off, I get into the gym and keep maintenance up.”
“Clearly last year when he came back and played so well, he was into a routine with therapy, stretching and nutrition, and we just wanted to continue that throughout the summer,” said Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough. “It was good for him that we could continue it. It’s quite simple. It’s not complex. It’s just staying with it and knowing at the end that’s what makes me feel good.”
The Wild will need Gaborik at his best if they are to make any noise this season. The Northwest Division is one of the most tightly packed in the NHL. At this point, you could throw a blanket over the Wild, Avalanche, Flames and Canucks. It’s so close the standings seem to change daily.
“The division is always hard. I think it’s the hardest division in the League,” Gaborik said. “The games in Calgary, Vancouver, they’re always tight, and it’s always huge games, huge rivalries, and it’s always physical games. Any time we can get any wins from those games, it’s very important wins. It’s always tight and the games are always dynamic and physical. We have Calgary in the next game, so hopefully we can get two points. … It's always tight, especially our division as well as the whole Western Conference. Always the games are so tight, and it's tight hockey. You know, every point counts, and now we have a small home stretch, so we have to make sure that we get as many points as possible, especially against Calgary and all those teams.
“Last year we didn’t win the division by two points and it was huge. … Last year we were seventh, we played Anaheim (in the first round of the playoffs). It’s huge. Especially in the second half, we just have to make sure that we stay consistent and try to win as many games as possible.”
Aiding that cause will be Gaborik’s sustained health.
“I feel good right now and hopefully I can stay healthy,” he said. “I think that’s important for me and the whole team. If I’m healthy I can perform.”
He’ll have another opportunity to perform at the NHL All-Star Game. Gaborik made the West team in 2003, when he had a goal and two assists, and won the fastest skater competition at the All-Star skills competition.
“Those are affirmations for him and confidence builders,” Risebrough said of the All-Star nod, as well as earning NHL First Star of the Week. “What people forget is that when players go through injuries like that, they want to play. Consequently, there’s kind of a mental anguish that goes with it. When you come back like he did (last season), you’re concerned, but you have to work your way through it. It recognizes all his hard work.”
At the young age of 21, Gaborik was the youngest skater on the ice for the game in Sunrise, Fla., and admits to being in awe of the constellation of stars surrounding him. But when the players head to Atlanta for the 2008 All-Star Weekend, Jan. 26-27, Gaborik, now a grizzled 25-year-old, plans to act the part.
“There were lots of stars there then,” he said. “To play on a line with (Sergei) Fedorov and (Jarome) Iginla, that was great. A great experience. Just a fun weekend. I’m sure its going to be same way this time.
“Overall, it’s going to be a fun weekend. I think I’m going to appreciate it more (this time).”
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org