The crux of the matter
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''This is a tough league to play in. You have to be in the best shape of your life to compete night-in, night-out,'' says Blues center Doug Weight, another of the St. Louis disciples in the work Phoenix-based Charles Poliquin does for professional athletes. ''I remember coming here two years ago with an abdominal injury from my last season in Edmonton. I couldn't shake it. Then I heard Al, Walt (Keith Tkachuk), Dallas Drake and Chris Pronger talking about this guy in Phoenix.
''It was an easy decision for me, because I was hurting and looking for help. It also didn't hurt that I lived in Phoenix in the off-season.''
Weight learned that Poliquin also treats injuries as part of the training -- and that was even more important for Doug than just getting bigger, stronger and quicker.
Conditioning is everything that it takes to make a player more prepared to shine on the ice in the NHL, whether that be weight work, off-ice explosion, reducing body fat, teaching a player to eat right or power skating techniques.
''I remember being back home in Boston in the summer of 1997 when the Bruins picked this guy named Joe Thornton first overall in the draft and they talked about how even though there aren't many players who come right out of the draft and play in the NHL that this guy could do it,'' Tkachuk recalls. ''I thought to myself, 'Nice looking kid. Blond locks. Poster boy for the Bruins, who were struggling and missed the playoffs.' 'But even though he was already 6-4, 200 pounds and giant among boys in junior hockey, I thought, 'Geez, is he ever in for a rude awakening in the NHL.' I thought he was too skinny.''
Three goals. Four assists.
That's what Thornton produced for the Bruins in 55 games in his rookie season.
Tkachuk was right.
It was just another example of that transition of big fish in a little pond in the world of junior hockey to swimming with sharks in the NHL that MacInnis stressed to Jackman.
The next summer Thornton stayed in Boston and bulked up with the aid of Mike Boyle, another of those personal trainers who has done wonders with NHL players.
''Whether you are in the best shape of your life coming into the NHL, you are still a boy beginning a career with men or a 40-year-old veteran coming into his 23rd NHL season, the fact remains there's always a young kid out there ready to push you, whether it's on your team or an opponent,'' MacInnis says. ''Some of the guys on the Blues kid me, saying that I must get a kickback from Charles for recommending him to so many of our players. But I don't.
''To me, every time you go one-on-one with someone in this game, they can make a fool of you if you aren't in the best shape of your life. I've got enough pride in my game to know that I don't want that happening to me.''
MacInnis smiles. He's clearly an advocate of this conditioning craze.
''Just look at him,'' says Jackman. ''No one beats him to the puck. Few out-muscle him. And look at his stamina. Next to Nicklas Lidstrom, he played more minutes than any other player. And he's 40.''
MacInnis just laughs when he hears Jackman singing his praises.
''Seeing a kid like Barret Jackman come into the NHL and be strong enough and smart enough to dominate the way he did in winning Rookie of the Year last season makes me feel pretty good,'' MacInnis says. ''You know something, I learned a long time ago that there are just too many young kids coming into this League who are big and strong and skilled -- and they can embarrass you if you aren't prepared.''
Then he gives me a wink and says, ''And if you can beat a hotshot kid 20 years younger than you with a pass or shot or defensive play, it shows that these old bones aren't ready to be put out to pasture just yet.''