| The season may be over for the Vancouver Canucks, but don't for a second think that all of the hard work is done. |
Far from it, in fact. As clichÃ©d as it sounds, professional hockey truly is a 12-month a year business and much of a team's on-ice success is a direct result of the effort that's expended during the off-season. That's why every Canuck player, all of the guys under contract in Manitoba, plus all of the team's junior prospects are given a comprehensive summer strength and conditioning program to follow.
And with the aid of modern technology, Canucks strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi can monitor each and every players' progress with a few mouse clicks and keystrokes on his office computer in the training centre at GM Place.
"I send out a manual that's about 400 pages and it's an off-season sports specific hockey conditioning program," Takahashi told canucks.com between visits from Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo and Rick Rypien in the gym last week. "The book covers nutrition, flexibility, aerobic conditioning, anaerobic conditioning, strength training, power training, speed, agility and quickness. It also offers a program which tapers into training camp with things like on-ice drills, bike rides and runs."
When Takahashi assumed his role with the hockey club four years ago, he devised specific summer programs for individual players. But that was prior to the NHL lockout and so much has changed in the game that Takahashi felt he had no choice but to change the way he approached his handling of the Canucks off-season programs.
"When I started you had true stay at home defencemen and rushing defencemen, your fourth liners were purely checkers, the game has changed so much now that guys have to be able to do everything. They have to be mobile, they have to be quick, explosive, they have to have good foot speed - all these different items," he says of standardizing his plans. "Now what I've done because everyone has to do everything, I send a general program out and each guy gets these little modifications to it. So if a guy had a prior MCL injury or we know that he has issues with his lower back, he'll get a specific program for that or if a guy needs to put a little weight on or needs more foot speed, he'll get specific units on that as well as his regular program."
Canuck players are expected to follow the programs laid out in Takahashi's manual and regularly enter all of their pertinent data into a secure team website. Once all of the information is processed and measured against previous results, each of the players will hear from Takahashi on an on-going basis throughout the off-season.
"I contact them either through e-mail or phone every two weeks and every month, starting this month, what they do is they have a test they have to run through and then they have to send me the scores of that test. We monitor the website, we know who's logging on and where they're going on the site," Takahashi explains. "It allows us to find holes before guys come to camp and that's our big thing. Some guys will run the tests and think they're on track when really they're a little bit behind."
Takahashi admits there was some trepidation when he instituted the testing component to his summer program. After all, these are high-performance athletes who work hard all season, but most are also guys with families who want to have the freedom to enjoy their summers off. He wasn't sure if players would feel like the tests were an intrusion, but he's been pleasantly surprised at the way in which his off-season regimen has been accepted.
"Guys have all bought into it and this group has been really good. I've talked to other strength coaches where they've had a real problem getting hold of certain players - a guy all of a sudden is part of the witness protection program or something and he's just disappeared off the face of the earth," he says with a laugh. "We'll have a couple of times where I can't get hold of guys for a few days but for the most part, most of them have Blackberrys now and their access to the internet is good so they'll usually get back to me in a couple of days at the latest. So they've been really good."
The only guys who've presented summer problems for Takahashi are some of the team's prospects who are still learning the commitment needed to be a true professional. And usually, it only takes one phone call from the drill sergeant to set them straight.
"It's the younger guys that you really have to keep tabs on because some of them workout with different trainers and we have to keep in contact with them and make sure they buy into our program," he says. "The veterans all roll into the camp the same way - in good shape."
Takahashi knows the importance for his players of striking that balance between their personal and professional lives and he doesn't expect the players to live in the gym during the summer. But he also knows these next few months are when he'll do some of his most vital work of the year. So he wants to be firm but fair with the players and one thing he tells them all before they depart at the end of the season is to stay off the ice for a couple of months.
"I'd like them to have downtime and actually at this level most of the guys naturally will want that time off. They'll want at least a couple of weeks off and they'll do it," he says. "I don't have to talk to anybody at this level to get off the ice. They know just to give the body that recuperation time."
And if the players get the right combination of rest, relaxation, recreation and rigorous training in the off-season, Takahashi will be happy - and he thinks the organization will be, too.
"I always tell our players that if they do the manual exactly, I promise that they will come into camp in the excellent condition that we expect of them," he says. "If they don't, there are no guarantees."
So while the playoffs may have ended three weeks ago for the Vancouver Canucks, the hockey season is never over. And Roger Takahashi's job is never done. But anything he can do in the off-season to make the players bigger, faster, stronger will hopefully help the Canucks have a shorter summer next year as they look to play well into the month of June and make a push for the Stanley Cup.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org