Evgeni Malkin felt so strongly about the direction and training he received from Pittsburgh Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar last summer in Moscow that soon after the season ended he told reporters the two would be back at it this summer.
The problem is, Malkin forgot to ask Kadar first.
"He walked into my office and said, 'Kadarov,' which is what he calls me, 'you come to Russia to help me this summer?'" Kadar told NHL.com, laughing as he started the story. "I said, 'Do you want me to?' He goes, 'I already tell media you go.' I was like, 'Well, I guess I'm going, Geno.'"
Kadar's Core Stix on the rise
Pittsburgh Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar has invested the past 12 years of his life developing a total body workout training system that is starting to gain steam in the fitness world.
The product, Core Stix, is advertised as a versatile, full-body resistance training system that combines core, cardio and strength. It is used by the Penguins, MMA fighters, trainers with clients in wheelchairs, and average citizens, including a 90-year-old man who is remaining active and healthy as a result, Kadar said.
It also is getting attention in the entertainment world. Kadar said Janet Jackson likes it and is working with him and his business partner, California-based engineer and patent attorney Kregg Koch, to design a custom Core Stix system she can bring on the road.
"We were in Men's Health last month and they said we were one of the best total body workouts in their lineup," Kadar told NHL.com. "It's a complete total body workout in a 5-foot by 2-1/2-foot board. You can do everything on it. There are rods that insert and flex at all different angles to provide over 100 different exercises. Your core is always engaged."
Kadar said he thought of the idea for Core Stix while digging post-holes for a cattle fence on his family farm in Elnora, Alberta. Kadar met Koch while Kadar was working in the Los Angeles Kings organization. Koch was able to help Kadar develop the system and secure national and international patents.
They recruited celebrity fitness trainer Gunnar Peterson to endorse the system.
"We've only hit the market 6-8 months ago but we're slowly getting out there," Kadar said. "We're still looking for investors, but word is getting out and it's starting to move. We've hit some independent gyms, but none of the big corporate ones as of yet. Locally, all the players have endorsed it by using it and talking about it. We've gotten nothing but great reviews. We're trying to build the brand."
And when they do?
"I'd like to at some point just give it to somebody that really knows what they're doing with it and see where it goes," Kadar said. "I never want to give up my hockey position. I love hockey too much to let [Core Stix] get in the way. It's something I thought of that happened to get developed. It's doing really well."-- Dan Rosen
For two weeks last summer Kadar lived in a Marriott in Moscow and worked Malkin through the latter stages of his rehabilitation from right knee surgery. The result was a 109-point season that brought Malkin the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award.
Their bond was so strong and the training so necessary that Malkin asked Kadar to come for four weeks this summer. Kadar, who is not married and has no children, leaves Sunday and won't return to North America until Aug. 10.
"Evgeni showed last year from his rehab to his training with Mike Kadar just a different level of commitment off the ice and preparation coming into the season," Bylsma told NHL.com. "The good thing is instead of doing the two weeks, Mike is going to go there for almost four weeks. That to me is just another indication of Geno saying, 'Hey, I want to be at that level again.' That's pretty impressive."
Kadar doesn't want to take credit for Malkin's MVP season, but he does express pride in at least giving Malkin direction.
For instance, in all the time Malkin spent in Russia as a child and teenager developing into an elite hockey player, he never had a personal trainer. Kadar said he was "somewhat shocked" to learn that, especially because most of the players from Canada and the United States that he knows have had personal trainers for years.
"But then again, I never knew of his world prior to meeting Geno and spending time with him in North America," Kadar said. "I was a little bit shocked, but what does that tell you about Geno, how successful he's been without having someone to work with."
Kadar could tell the trust Malkin had with him was strong when he would introduce Malkin to new exercises.
"There would be some trepidation, but it worked out in the end for him," Kadar said. "Most of the time he'd just go, 'That's tough.' He's a smart guy. He catches on quickly."
Malkin also knows how to pay back. In an impromptu presentation in the Penguins locker room on April 8, Malkin gave Kadar half of the puck he used to score his 50th goal of the season the day before.
Malkin literally sawed the puck in half, keeping one side and presenting the other to Kadar as a gift for helping him reach the plateau for the first time.
Kadar is going to use the puck, a picture of Malkin scoring the goal, a picture of him with Malkin and their half pucks, and the scoresheet signed by Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang (the three players in on the goal) to create a framed piece to hang in his office.
"He gave me half of his 50th goal puck and said, 'Thank you for last summer.' I was blown away," Kadar said. "I got emotional about it because I have never experienced that, have never heard of that. I've heard of players giving it to players, but never to a staff member. I was proud of that."
Kadar immediately started showing it around the Penguins offices. He brought it to co-owner Mario Lemieux, whose response was, "What does that tell you about the guy you're dealing with?"
Bylsma said it still gives him goose bumps.
"The part of that story that is the best is it's not like Geno took a puck and just gave it to Mike and said, 'I don't need this, you take it.' He cut it in half and kept half," Bylsma said. "He didn't just toss it away. It's not just a guy who flipped the puck to him so we can tell a good story about it. It's a good achievement for him, and for me that was a real significant part of that. He shared the puck, but he showed that it meant something to him."
Switch to center an exciting idea for JVRNHL.com
James van Riemsdyk on his probable shift to center this season in Toronto: "It is something that will be a good opportunity for me."
READ MORE ›
Returning to Russia means a great deal to Kadar, who is more comfortable this time because he knows exactly what he's flying into. Kadar experienced what can only be called major culture shock when he got to Moscow last year.
"When you go to New York you realize how busy it is. When you go to Moscow and come back to New York you realize how New York isn't that busy," Kadar said. "It was New York basically times about three. Just the traffic -- it is crazy busy. There are no speed limits. People go and then there is gridlock. It seems like nobody adheres to any speed limits, but with that type of volume."
Kadar isn't a typical tourist. Malkin takes care of the majority of the expenses, including a full-time driver who communicates with Kadar through a translation app on his iPad.
"Geno told the guy where I needed to go, but anything else I needed I would type it in English and translate it into Russian," Kadar said.
As for the training, like last summer, Kadar plans to spend a lot of time at Malkin's local gym, which he admitted is a bit antiquated but good enough for their needs. The rink, which Kadar referred to as "extremely old school" is a distance away, but he doesn't plan to have Malkin on the ice until August. They'll work out six days a week with a break on Sundays. Some days will include two workouts.
"Mike can go anywhere our players want, but it takes the commitment on the player's part," Shero told NHL.com. "To see the work he put in pay off, I think that meant a lot to Geno."
For Kadar, the experience makes the work and the sweat worthwhile.
"Geno was unbelievable in looking after me," Kadar said, referring to last year. "Sergei Gonchar was there as well. Between the two of them they treated me like I'm family."
Malkin and Gonchar took Kadar to the Moscow circus, a soccer game, a yacht tour on the Moscow River, and to plenty of exceptional and expensive dinners.
"And when I wasn't with them, I was walking around trying to learn things on my own," Kadar said. "I didn't know anything outside of the 'Rocky' movie. It was definitely something a lot different than what I thought it was. It's a beautiful place with so much culture and history."
It's also home to the reigning NHL MVP. Kadar deserves some credit for that.
"How important is Mike to Geno?" Bylsma asked. "Geno will tell you how important he is. It's the reason it is happening again this summer."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl