Even though training camp hasn’t yet begun, the Hurricanes players skating at the RecZone should be forgiven if they seem a little winded after the daily hour-long scrimmages.
That’s because, behind the scenes, their day starts much earlier. Prior to the 10 a.m. practices, players undergo grueling workouts led by Pete Friesen, the team’s head trainer and strength and conditioning coach. When players aren’t running stairs at the RBC Center, they’re reporting to the Athletic Performance Center in North Raleigh for intense, all-encompassing workouts.
Click here for photos from Thursday's workout
Thursday’s session was among the most difficult of what Friesen calls “the mini-preseason.” The 24 participants – a group including established Canes like Erik Cole and Eric Staal and up-and-comers such as Drayson Bowman and Riley Nash – were asked to do everything from suicides to kickboxing to running backwards on treadmills over a non-stop 90-minute grind.
“What I’m training these guys for is to get ready for Paul Maurice practices, because they are tenacious with their stops and starts,” said Friesen, his voice hoarse and barely audible from a morning spent shouting instructions. “I’ve just got to get them ready so that there aren’t any injuries and there’s a good performance level at camp.”
Of the roughly 11 activities the players cycled through – this after doing various group exercises, rope and weight training that seemed like enough on their own to the uninitiated – one was by far the most entertaining.
In this particular drill, Friesen would yell random instructions to a player who was tethered to a post and running against rope resistance. To make things interesting, he would often tell players to run full speed in one direction before conveniently changing his mind, with the occasional high-five and good-natured barb thrown in.
It was also an excellent way for Friesen to tailor workouts specifically for certain players, with netminder Justin Peters’ quick side-to-side routes tracing an imaginary goal crease around where he stood.
”These were all hockey-specific type exercises to train agility, the eyes, speed and power,” said Friesen.
While the workouts have become commonplace over the last two weeks, they haven’t been conducted with this type of intensity in several years.
“This is old school,” said Erik Cole. “These are the kinds of things we used to do pre-lockout.”
Why step them up now after a roughly five-year hiatus?
“Maybe it’s the age of the players we have here versus the last few years,” said Cole. “We have more young guys coming out early, and having a group of guys is a lot more effective than working out by yourself. There’s a lot more intensity. This is a lot more dynamic.”
“Last year we had one of the oldest teams in the NHL, and this year we have one of the youngest,” said Friesen. “We can push these guys quite a bit harder, because their bodies don’t have the trials and tribulations that someone who’s older has.”
That’s not to say that all of the participants are prospects hoping to make an impression. Cole, Joe Corvo, Tom Kostopoulos and Sergei Samsonov, now the only Hurricanes over the age of 30, were all in attendance, as was captain Staal, who set the bar on a number of the drills.
All of it would have been enough to make Staal’s predecessor and notorious fitness freak Rod Brind’Amour proud, were it not for the fact that he was there too, running the gauntlet with the rest of them.
“He’s still the hardest-working guy,” said Friesen. “I feel like I’m the luckiest strength coach in the NHL by having Rod Brind’Amour because he won’t BS me. If he feels we’re not done, he’ll tell me to step it up, or if we’ve gone too long he’ll tell me to back it off. No one that I know if in the NHL has someone like Rod Brind’Amour associated with their team. I don’t think the public knows about how much he does for me and this organization.
“The older guys are demonstrating great leadership,” Friesen added. “If they can do it, the young guys can do it.”
That’s precisely the attitude expressed by Cole, who along with Chad LaRose, has been leading the on-ice sessions since day one.
“If we’re in here doing it and the young guys aren’t, they’re going to feel awkward,” he said. “I’ve only known some of these guys for two weeks, but now we can joke around like we’ve been working out all summer. It makes a big difference.”
After things wrapped up at the APC, it was straight to the RecZone for the scrimmage – a workout that seems insignificant by comparison. After that’s over with, the group can finally begin to relax.
At least for a minute. After all, the RecZone has a weight room. At least they have Sundays off.