BUFFALO – When Kevin Dean was competing in the National Hockey League during the 1990s, there was minimal focus on health and wellness. But in the 15-plus years since Dean retired, the level of importance placed on taking care of the body has increased drastically.
The body is an athlete’s treasure chest. The parts and pieces are as valuable as gold.
And that’s why each player under Dean’s tutelage in Providence – and at this weekend’s Prospects Challenge – must be in tip-top shape if they’d like to do business in the NHL.
“There’s a lot at stake,” Dean said following practice in Buffalo. “There’s a lot of money at stake if these kids can push themselves into an NHL lineup. It’s a big difference in lifestyle.”
One prospect who has stood out for Dean in this department is forward Colby Cave. Signed as a free agent out of the WHL in April 2015, the Saskatchewan native had work to do to transform his body into one capable of competing in the NHL.
Some 17 months later, Cave is fit and lean and has become a model for the rest of the prospects at this year’s Rookie Camp.
“He’s done a terrific job,” said Dean. “It wasn’t like a three-month thing in Providence, where at Christmas he was done with it. He worked on it all year long and there were times where he felt like he struggled on it, he hit a wall and the weight stopped coming off and didn’t have good energy.
“But I think through Julie [Nicoletti], our nutritionist, and our strength coaches down there – and his own professionalism – he’s gotten ahead of it and understands what it takes to feel good on the ice and keep his weight at a good number.”
Cave also mentioned Nicoletti as being vital to the process of learning the science behind eating right. An intense summer program also helped him work on his quickness and speed.
“I realized what it took to make it in the NHL,” said the 6-foot, 187-pound forward. “You see some of those guys up with the Bruins and they’re specimens. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Over the summer, I really bore down on that and worked on the little things, getting quicker, getting faster, getting stronger.
“It’s kind of cliché, but that’s what it takes to get to the NHL. If you really want to do it, you have to bear down.”
Bearing down is commonplace for Cave. The 21-year-old went undrafted, and after four-plus seasons with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, battled his way to a contract with the Bruins.
Cave played one game with Providence at the end of the 2014-15 season, before joining the P-Bruins for his first full professional campaign last year. He acquitted himself well, tallying 13 goals and 16 assists over 75 games.
“Everyone develops at their own time,” said Cave, who tallied 33 and 35 goals, respectively, in his last two seasons with Swift Current. “I was very fortunate that I did sign after my 20-year-old year. It just took me a few more years to develop.
“I think everyone has the same mindset, whether you’re a free agent, invite, draft pick, everyone is battling for the same position: the ultimate goal of playing in the NHL.”
Cave is in the midst of his second rookie camp with the Bruins and this time around feels much more at ease both on and off the ice.
“Definitely comfort [level],” said Cave of the differences between this year and last. “You know the staff, you kind of know how the schedule goes. You know the teams that you’re playing against. Coming into this year, I knew I was going to take part of a leadership role.
“There are some young kids here that may need some guidance. I was there once, too. It’s always nice to give a few pointers.”
Leadership has always come naturally to Cave, who was captain of Swift Current during his final two seasons with the club. While he admits he may not be the most vocal guy in the room, he has no problem speaking up when needed or sticking up for a teammate on the ice.
“He’s got a calm presence about him,” said Dean. “He’s a dialed in, focused individual. You know if you have a question, ‘How do the guys feel?’ He’s in tune with what’s going on for that reason, and because he works hard and sets a good example. There’s leadership there, for sure.”
Cave is also a dependable piece of the puzzle on the ice. Playing mostly center – he centered Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk during Saturday morning’s practice at HarborCenter – Cave sees himself as a strong 200-foot player.
“I always think defense first,” said Cave. “If coach needs me to take a key face-off, or block a shot or two in the D-zone, or even put together a few goals here or there – it’s one of the things I really take pride in, that 200-foot game. I really want to make myself a complete player.
“You don’t see too many guys in the NHL that aren’t. It’s just one of those things that I keep working on and hopefully it’s something that I use to my advantage.”
If his commitment to making himself a more complete player is anything like the commitment Cave has made to his body, his career appears to be in pretty good shape.
The 2016 Bruins Rookie Camp is presented by AT&T.