During the team's best season in franchise history last year, one of the Blue Jackets' weapons gained the spotlight: their conditioning. The team felt fresh and full of energy through the full 60 minutes of a game, and it showed. They earned a 33-1-3 record when leading at the start of the third period.
As this year's training camp gets underway with grueling on-ice testing, and players' legs are left heavy from effort, it's a time to remember that this work goes into creating as much of a conditioning edge as possible.
"I think when you get against a team and you know you've worked harder than them, your expectation is to beat them every time," defenseman Ryan Murray said. "Even in little situations, in corners or in a race to a puck, it makes you angry if you don't win the battles. You know you've worked harder, so you believe you should win every time."
Every NHL training camp is hard, there's no disputing that. But for the Blue Jackets, knowing the demands of John Tortorella's tests and skating schedule means you put that much more work into being ready come September.
"Your work in the off-season dictates what your testing scores are going to be and beyond that how you're going to look in practice," assistant captain Brandon Dubinsky said. "Everyone fears the tests, but you shouldn't train for tests. You should train to be a hockey player and to be in elite condition.
"Guys that put in the work are going to get the benefit, and when the games come you feel fresh. As Torts says, 'games can be won or lost in the last five minutes.'"
Video: The Jackets start camp with a two mile run
Many players have increased the amount of cardiovascular training they do during the summer. They want to be ready for not just the on-ice testing but also Tortorella's infamous "two miles in 12 minutes" run, which again is intended to motivate players to push hard in everything they do to prepare for an 82-game season.
Add on two weeks of skating heavy training camp, and you have a roster of players who have built up their physical reserves to their maximum potential.
"What we do in the off-season is we try to build them up as much as we can on the aerobic and strength sides," Nelson Ayotte, director of high performance said. "When the season starts, we have to look for is the de-training effect. The players destroy their bodies as the season goes. Every game is so demanding, so for us in the off-season we build and during the season, we're more on the recovery side and how to maintain what they acquired in the summer. But in a smart way."
And while the conditioning work load is heavy, and the schedule demanding, after seeing the benefits of this degree of preparation, the Jackets are ready to do it again. Along the way, it has the added benefit of bringing the guys together through the shared pain of training, running, and skating harder and faster than maybe you had first thought you could.
"It's tough while you're doing it, but it will be an advantage for our team," defenseman Scott Harrington said. "We saw the results last year. We found our game and we were in great shape. I think we were able to stick with teams right through the end of the game because of all the hard work."