As the Canucks’ strength and conditioning coach, Takahashi is intimately involved in the training and preparation of every player who clambers down tunnel of the home team in Vancouver, Manitoba and Victoria.
Suffice it to say Takahashi knows tryouts like gravy knows potatoes. So what’s his golden tip for making the cut?
“The most important thing I look for is effort. I look to see if a player will continue to go through a wall for you or whether they will shut down.”
On top of managing the fitness of players and prospects already in the Canucks’ system, Takahashi conducts testing at the annual draft combine for junior prospects looking to make an impression on scouts.
“I think you see [determination playing a factor] all the time at the draft. You’ll see a lot of coaches and general managers look at the coachability of a player. Some guys can have all the skill in the world and not play in the NHL because they didn’t take that last step, because they lack effort and willpower.”
Takahashi made the jump from junior hockey in Langley when long-time Canucks strength and conditioning coach Peter Twist, left the team in 2003. MAJOR LEAP
One of the first things he noticed once he began working in the NHL, was the lack of training instruction some of the kids showed coming out of junior.
“Some kids just train for the body, and they’re big and they’re cut, but they try and do the test and they’re terrible at them. Hockey is more than just strength and putting on mass and those kinds of things.”
“When they leave junior at the end of the year and they’re 165 pounds the coach will tell them they have to put on 25 pounds if they want to play next year. So the kid just bulks up all summer like a body builder. Then all of the sudden he comes back and he can’t skate, can’t stick handle, and his timing is off. More often than not he gets injured because he didn’t know how to train for hockey.”
The key is to focus energy on hockey-specific workouts aimed at developing explosiveness, mobility, and agility.
“For the most part a hockey body is lean – under 10 percent body fat – players are strong and powerful with big legs,” says Takahashi. “When you do reactive work with them, they’re explosive; they’re really good at that. That’s what they’ll really key in on.”
So is a personal trainer necessary for aspiring young hockey players?
“I think that you can do it yourself,” says Takahashi, “provided you get the right guidance. But I don’t think it’s necessary to have a one-on-one trainer every session starting at the age of ten.” EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY
Instead Takahashi advises training smart and enrolling in as many different sports as possible at a young age to develop overall athleticism. The skills, he says, will transfer over into the others making players stronger and more able to adapt as they grow.
“Look at the Sedins - they’re phenomenal soccer players. If they had just stuck to one sport, would they have been good hockey players? Probably. But would they be as good as they are now? Probably not.”
The most important piece of advice Takahashi can give a young player is to be prepared to weather the highs with the lows. Almost every NHLer has a story of being cut or failing when it counts most. The ones who succeed are the ones whop turn that into a learning experience.
“I think a lot of kids are nervous going into the camp, they’re worried they’re going to get cut or worried that they’re not performing their best. After a poor test or a poor shift on the ice, they’ll get down on themselves. But they have to forget about that and just continue on and be them self.”
“There are so many NHLers that have been cut from Junior A or Junior B camps, and then all of the sudden you find out 10 years later that he’s been playing in the NHL for five or six years. Everybody wonders where he came from. Well, he got cut in his first camp actually. They didn’t think he was good enough. There are all sorts of stories like that. Don’t be discouraged.”
And when you’re in camp, be prepared and relax. The natural tendency for players is to try and impress the coaching staff. Takahashi has seen this happened at every level. The key, he explains, is to stick to your game.
“A lot of kids try too hard when they come to camp - they try to be the goal scorer or try and make the fancy move. The reason you’re at the camp is because you’re a good player, that’s why you were invited in the first place. So just go out there and play hockey, play the style of hockey that you normally play during the season; that’s what the coaches are interested in seeing from you. If you’re a grinder and checker, go out and grind and check. If you’re a goal scorer, go out and score goals.”
Whatever you do, pay attention to the training staff – they often know more about the recipe for a successful tryout than anyone else.