As I watched twenty-seven young hockey players participate in the 2006 Ducks Conditioning Camp on Monday afternoon, it occurred to me that training camp is less than two months away.
It was great to be at Anaheim ICE along with other Ducks fans to follow the on-ice practice sessions during this seven-day camp. The camp focuses on both on-ice and off-ice development of the organization's top young prospects. Each player participates in strength and conditioning drills, which allows coaches and management a chance to closely evaluate the progress of each athlete.
Along with daily weight and aerobic training, each player also receives a personally tailored nutritional recommendation and is tested for strength thresholds, range of movement and aerobic capacity.
"Well just like any other summers where we've had these camps, this is a really positive experience for me and the players," says Sean Skahan, Anaheim Ducks Strength and Conditioning Coach. "I think they are enjoying themselves while also working hard at a lot of elements that we are trying to get across to them, off-ice and on-ice."
On Friday of last week, there was off-ice testing and the training process was started on Saturday. "From Saturday morning thru Thursday morning, we have off-ice sessions that last about two hours per session," said Skahan. "They have to come back in the afternoon for an hour on-ice. It's a new experience for the young kids and they are learning and getting stronger as we go along."
"They are always looking for an edge," mentioned Skahan. "They know the games all about speed and quickness. They know they need to get faster and stronger. They are looking for ways that will help them out the most in trying to accomplish that."
Do training habits change due to the way the game is now being played in the NHL?
"As the game has evolved, the off-ice training has as well," added Skahan. "Our job is to make sure we are on the cutting edge in knowing what we are doing in bringing those aspects to the athletes."
For defenseman Brendan Mikkelson, the most important thing he takes from a camp like this is to learn as much as he can from the older guys. "The guys that have been in the American Hockey League and been around pro hockey know what it's like to battle every day to get to the National Hockey League," says Mikkelson, who just turned nineteen years old in June.
"I don't think I even really appreciated how hard it is to get there," said Mikkelson. "Seeing a lot of these guys and how good of players they are, they still haven't gotten there, permanently. It really humbles you. You have to watch them and watch a lot of things they do. Tendencies and things like that. Little things you can pick up hopefully can give yourself a little bit of an edge down the road."
Goaltender Michael Wall, who spent time with Portland (AHL) and Augusta (ECHL) last season, says it's important to get the skates back on and get ready for next season. "It's important nowadays," said Wall. "Everyone's getting stronger and faster. It really helps us young guys. Sean is here to help us and educate us to get the most out of our body. It's great to be here for this learning experience."
Forward Ryan Shannon enjoyed a productive time in Portland with the Ducks top farm team during the 2005-2006 season. In 71 games, Shannon scored 27 goals and added 59 assists for 86 points. Ryan says his teammates get motivated as the summer goes on and are focused on coming to training camp in top condition.
"There's plenty of time to do that," says Shannon. "Right now, it's good to get to know all the guys that are in the organization, the new faces and the chemistry that builds from there. A lot of the guys who were in the first conditioning camp went on to make the Ducks. And now that's kind of the core group that's there now. It's exciting to know that we can be part of the future of the organization. It would be great to have the guys who are here now at this camp to go on and be that core group."
Shannon says different things can be done conditioning wise now that the NHL game has more speed and explosiveness.
"We are doing some power lifting, some speed squats that focus on tempo," added Shannon. "That does develop the explosiveness in your legs a little bit more. I think a lot of it has to do with what each player does naturally well. If you are a speed guy, then you should be working on your speed because that's going to take you to the next level. If you are a tough guy, a strong powerful guy, then you work on that part. The conditioning camp has been the same as last year. The only thing different has been the new faces. It's been great."
Center Tim Brent says the conditioning camp is very important, individually and from an organizational standpoint.
"Getting all your young players and up and coming players together, even if it's for a week or two is good," remarked Brent. "Start working hard together right away. It's always done wonders for this organization. I think it's shown in both Anaheim's success and in Portland last year."
For Brent, there are some things you can take back home with you from the Ducks conditioning camp and work on until training camp opens. "We have a very well known power skating coach here this week," noted Brent. "You might take a couple of things from him and make yourself a better skater. It's definitely worth coming out here for a week. We have Sean Skahan who has been here every year I've been coming and he's taught me a lot. And he's taught a lot of guys even younger than me how important the lifting side and conditioning side is to the game of hockey."
"The skaters are the ones who are playing now," added Brent. "The guys that can move up and down the ice for sixty minutes and that has a lot to do with conditioning and preparation this summer."
For Skahan, it's great to show the players where they are in early July. And then to sit down and tell them where they need to be for testing in September. And have a chance in the fall.
Midway through this year's conditioning camp, what are his impressions of this group?
"Great impressions," said Skahan. "A credit to our management and scouting staff for getting good character kids who work their tails off. There's lot of great kids out here that do what they are told, listen and work hard. Pretty good, so far."