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Offseason Training Session

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues
Nelson Ayotte (right) helped Erik Johnson prepare for the intensity of the NHL before his rookie season. Ayotte has also played a crucial role in helping Johnson recover from last year's knee injury. (Photo: St. Louis Blues)

Success in the NHL isn’t just about how you perform on the ice, but also how you prepare off of it.

For Nelson Ayotte, the Blues Strength and Conditioning Coach, the off-ice preparation is just another day at the office.

Before most people start their day, Ayotte is awake and preparing to meet with Blues players and prospects, guiding them through workout regimens designed to improve speed, agility, endurance and strength.

“I used to have to call the prospects and ask them if they wanted to come to St. Louis so we could show them how to fast track their development into being an NHL player,” Ayotte told recently. “Now they are calling me to find out when they can come and how long they can stay.”

Midway through the summer, more than a dozen players were living in St. Louis to work on their physical makeup and conditioning, and that number has grown. Because the Blues can’t require their players to train in the summer, each player is making a personal commitment to improve and even paying their own travel and living expenses.

“I think it’s tremendous,” Ayotte said about the number of players working out with him this summer. “I talk to other strength coaches in the league, and there’s not a place in the league right now that has this many of their players committed to training in town with the team’s program.

“It’s really really motivating for someone who works in my field, to see that type of commitment from the players. That tells me a lot about the character of the team that we have right now.”

Carlo Colaiacovo, Erik Johnson, Brad Winchester, David Backes, Cam Janssen and Barret Jackman are just a few of the players frequently working out at St. Louis Mills with Ayotte. Patrik Berglund returned at the beginning of August to get a jump start on his training, while others are still working out at home on Ayotte’s program.

In other words, every player has been committed to getting ahead this summer.

“If you take the example of Paul Kariya, every single week, every lift, every rep, everything that went wrong or good in his program, we re-adjusted it the following week,” Ayotte said. “I also went to Toronto this summer to see Brad Boyes and B.J. Crombeen and Jay McClement, to make sure they stay on track all summer. The contact is prominent with everybody on the team, whether they train with us or are outside of town.”

Ayotte brings plenty of experience to the table. In 1989, he was an athlete in the Canadian military. He began coaching the military team in 1994 and eventually took an internship at a private training facility in Phoenix, where Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger trained in the offseason. He eventually moved to St. Louis and opened his own facility to work with several players before Blues GM Larry Pleau approached him about a full-time job with the club.

As they say, the rest is history. For Ayotte and most who work in sports, there is no offseason. For him, it’s worth the long hours and busy summers to see players improve.

“There are so many (players) who come to mind that are doing tremendous work,” he said. “It’s been a pretty thrilling summer for me to see those guys working their butts off all summer. I don’t think we have one guy that is really above (all the others). Everybody has worked pretty hard.

“It’s pretty incredible, actually. You guys will see.”

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