Hockey players will try all sorts of training mechanisms, both on and off the ice, to get a competitive edge on the opposition.
For Taylor Hall, that means bobsled training.
The Windsor Spitfires’ left wing, ranked second by NHL Central Scouting in its final list of North American skaters available for the 2010 Entry Draft, credits his unique brand of cross-training with helping him achieve his unique level of success.
Just this season, Hall tied Tyler Seguin for the Ontario Hockey League scoring title with 106 points; he won a silver medal at the World Junior Championships, finishing second on the team with 6 goals and 12 points; he led the OHL in playoff scoring for a second-straight year; helped Windsor become the first team in 15 years to repeat as Memorial Cup champions; and he became the first-ever two-time Memorial Cup MVP.
At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Hall doesn't cut an imposing figure. On the ice, however, he scares the wits out of most opposing defensemen.
"He's a really dynamic, explosive player," Windsor teammate Cam Fowler told NHL.com. Fowler got to go against Hall every day in practice, and played against him at the World Juniors. "He can blow around you with his speed or he can break you down one-on-one."
"Taylor Hall is explosive, he's got dynamic speed," Belleville Bulls defenseman Stephen Silas told NHL.com. "He's one of the hardest players to knock off the puck. He can beat you in many different ways."
That combination of speed and uncommon leg strength is a byproduct of Hall's bobsled training. It's a workout regimen he discovered thanks to his father, Steve, who took up the sport following his playing days as a wide receiver in the Canadian Football League. Steve Hall was good enough in the sled that only a back injury prevented him from making the Canadian Olympic team in 1988.
Steve still was training with the national team in Calgary when Taylor was born in 1991, and Taylor said he remembers watching his dad at a few races. What stands out to him now, though, is the training it took to excel at that sport.
"It's such a sport that you need a lot of power in your legs," Taylor said. "The stairs and the plyometrics, the jumps, the jump squats -- it's really helped me get power in my legs, helps me off the start, especially my stride. … I like to think I have good skating form."
Steve Hall doesn't train like he used to, but he still works with Taylor, and they've designed a workout program that certainly has paid dividends.
"There are different phases of training," Steve told NHL.com. "But recovery is the most important thing. Before you do something hard, you have to recover. And when you do have a workout that's an intense workout, you want to be 120-percent ready to do it. That's the key. When you get to a hockey game you got have that extra level of intensity that you need at times. … (But) when you've got a day off, take the day off; if it's an active rest day, that's either basketball or tennis or golf, something different. That's the way we work it -- you don't want to think about hockey all the time. Maybe go hit baseballs. It does work. And it makes the athlete more accepting of increased work when he needs it."
Over the years, Steve Hall has been more than just a workout partner. "I was a goalie, I was an adversary, I was a trainer, I was a confidant," he said. "I was a lot of things."
It's the goalie part that helped him realize what kind of hockey prodigy he had under his roof. Steve said Taylor started scoring on him when he was 11, but when Taylor hit 14, Steve -- who was more into football than hockey growing up -- learned the hard way that it was time to retire the pads.
"At one point, when he was around 14, I got a shot just between the eyes," Steve recalled. "Got cut, and my wife said I have to quit. It was one of those road hockey masks, but he was shooting pucks. I said, 'OK, you're right. Maybe I should quit.' "
Steve gladly has taken a seat in the stands as Taylor has emerged as a future NHL star and possibly the first pick of the Draft, to be held June 25-26 in Los Angeles. Most of his talks now with Taylor regard off-ice issues, like dealing with all the attention and still being able to perform. It's something Steve went through during his athletic career, and he's passing along his knowledge to Taylor.
"That's what we talk about all the time," Steve said. "We talk about performing. Performing is the key word. A lot of kids, maybe a lot of adults, just train for training purposes. They don't train to reach a level where performance is the key. You have to be able to perform in the big games. If you don't, you don't play as much, your career doesn't last as long. You see it in basketball, you see Kobe (Bryant) always rise to the occasion. He's performing; he's ready for the moment. And that's what we train for."
And it all starts with some lessons learned from a sled.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org