The crux of the matter
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"I remember earlier in their careers when Ted Donato played in the 180s and Steve Heinze was in the low 190s. Guys could play then at that size, but now there may be less than a dozen guys in the whole League under 190 pounds. And most of them are short, guys like Martin St. Louis, Paul Kariya and a few others who are clearly shorter than 5-foot-8. So, you realize that the physics of it mandate that you be strong."
Boyle had had success in returning older goalies to good health after injuries put their careers in jeopardy.
"One of the things that we've noticed with goalies is that the stress is on getting those guys healthy. We've seen more injuries with them because of the extremes of flexibility that they have to get into over and over again," Boyle said. "A lot of them come here with nagging groin problems, nagging hamstring problems. A couple of years ago we had both Garth Snow and Byron Dafoe who were coming off different kinds of strains. With those guys, particularly with the older goalies, it is more rehab-oriented: Trying to get those guys ready to play and sometimes trying to undo the unsound training that these guys have done."
Prove it or lose it
Every exercise and every piece of equipment gets questioned again and again by Boyle, a restless, wiry, professorial-type who doesn't look like a jock, but is, himself, in peak condition. Some of the most fundamental exercises have come under review.
"A lot of guys put a lot of emphasis on riding the bike: 'Hey, I've got to ride the bike to be in shape.' We try to get our guys to not ride the bike. We try to get them to be up on their feet, being more movement-oriented, very dynamically oriented because that's what they're going to do when they go and play," Boyle said.
"The reason goalies and position players often get injured is because they trained one way all summer and then they go out and do something entirely different. We try to make sure that we are mimicking the types of hockey movements. There will be more lateral movement, more balance, for those guys. There will still be the slide boards, but we may change the length of the slide board. We may do more faster side-to-side movements that mimic sliding post-to-post.
"With the goalies, one of the things that we've realized is to train them more like athletes to get them stronger and not be one-dimensional. There is a natural emphasis on being flexible and being in shape because it is a position where natural athleticism has carried these guys. What we're trying to do is make them realize that all that power, speed and explosiveness, all those things that we think are important for guys skating out on the ice are just as important for goalies.
"What we try to tell the goalies is that you really should be the best athlete on the ice. He's the only guy that it really matters when he falls that he gets right up. If a forward or a defenseman falls down, there's a goalie there to back him up. If the goalie doesn't get up, in the NHL, somebody puts it under the crossbar for a goal. Their ability to move and respond and be explosive really makes a difference."
Older athletes realize that intensive programs can extend their careers. Don Sweeney, 37, in his 18th NHL season, is a longtime Boyle client.
"It's a hockey-specific training schedule that played out from early in the summer, geared towards getting to training camp in peak physical condition, as well as being able to maintain your weight and explosiveness and strength through the course of an 82-game schedule," Sweeney said. "Obviously, you have some maintenance to do during the season. The core requirements that you do here on a daily basis sets you up for a healthy season.
"This program allows your back to be better, your hamstrings to be better and your hip flexors to be better. Those are the things that he's talking about lengthening out from the time you walk through the door at the beginning of the summer.
"You see guys having back problems over the course of their careers. I think that the things we do on a daily basis increase your chances of avoiding those problems. I think he gives you an advantage in that regard."
"Over time, we find our guys almost getting shorter from constantly being bent over," Boyle said. "Their shoulders are rounded and their hips are flexed. We have to correct that in the summer and get them back to full height. If they jump on a bike during the summer, they're spending 12 months in a rounded, bent-over position. Then, they wonder why when they elongate that tissue they get injured. To me, it's almost logical: You would expect them to get hurt from that.
"The aging process causes you to become more flexed. Hockey definitely makes that happen faster. That's why we put so much emphasis on flexibility and lengthening muscles. Then we strengthen those muscles that get long and weak so we get them out of those positions during the summer.
"One of the things that we have found over the last couple of years is that the inflexibility gets you long-term, not short-term," Boyle said. "The athletes need to keep doing these stretches and rehabilitative exercises that we're doing. Then we give them an in-season training program. One of the things most of the trainers and strength coaches in the NHL appreciate is the fact that the guys who work out with us are guys who will be easy to work with during the season. They're guys who are receptive to strength training during the season and maintaining their condition. I've had really good working relationships from the executives, the general managers, right down to the strength and conditioning coaches and the athletic trainers. That's made it a very easy situation for us here."
Boyle built his reputation with sport-specific training programs at Boston University, then parlayed it into a job as the strength and conditioning coach of the Boston Bruins. He left there to build his own company, Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Winchester, Mass. His success in training professional and amateur athletes led to the opening of a second facility in Canton, Mass.
Boyle recently received an offer he couldn't refuse and has relocated to Southern California. His partners, Walter Norton, the strength and conditioning coach of the Boston Celtics, and Bob Hanson will continue to offer advanced training programs to athletes.