WINNIPEG – While watching prospects at MTS Iceplex at this week’s development camp, it can be easy to pull up their stats from last season to see if they improved. But goals, assists, and points don’t always tell the whole story.
The Winnipeg Jets staff, specifically Director of Fitness Dr. Craig Slaunwhite, isn’t putting the emphasis on those numbers though. He’s more interested in the development he sees off the ice.
“I just really try to emphasize the importance of off-ice conditioning, strengthening and nutrition. For the most part, players at this age have been playing their whole life, they've been playing hockey a long time, so their skill set has had a lot more time to develop on the ice than off the ice,” said Slaunwhite, a former national level decathlete in his own right. “So that's the area they're going to see the biggest improvement in their games, if they're able to focus their attention to their
Slaunwhite provided an example of defenceman Josh Morrissey.
“We sat down with him, we explained what our expectations were and our desire for him to put on good, lean mass,” Slaunwhite said. “He's taken that advice, he's come to camp in great shape,
and he's seeing the results now.”
The results Slaunwhite is referring to are, in part, from the on-ice tests conducted on the fourth day of development camp. Speed tests, as
well as endurance tests, were all part of the program, as well as some off-ice testing earlier in the week.
Morrissey has needed that endurance. A long playoff run with the St. John’s IceCaps near the end of his 18-year-old season, and a march to the Memorial Cup final with the Kelowna Rockets has required every bit of energy the 20-year-old could muster. But he wouldn’t trade that
experience for anything.
“I leaned a lot on that (IceCaps) playoff run this year when I was in Kelowna and at the World Juniors. Just in pressure situations, down by a goal, up by a goal in big games,” Morrissey said.
“Any time you can go on long playoff runs, it just gives you so much experience, and it helps you so much as a player.”
Morrissey says he feels he’s improved in a number of areas over the years, and while he’s enjoying himself at development camp, he can’t wait for September’s training camp.
“Probably one of the best things is knowing a lot of the guys, it's a lot of the same faces coming here to Winnipeg,” he said. “You see guys at training camp, you see guys in the locker room, and it's a
lot of familiarity for myself.
“I think another great thing is knowing I was able to play in the AHL playoffs, I was just finishing up my 18-year-old season, to have success, and be given an opportunity to play from Keith (McCambridge, Head Coach of the St. John’s IceCaps, and now, the Manitoba Moose).
"It just gives me more confidence.”
The challenge of putting on the “lean mass” Slaunwhite refers to isn’t a challenge unique to Morrissey. He says every athlete has the potential to put on weight, but there are many factors that can make it a challenge.
“Some guys, if they already have bigger, thicker frames, it's going to be easier for them to put on weight. If you have your prototypical tall, skinny athlete it's going to be a challenge for him to put on weight,” said Slaunwhite. “What we do is emphasize the good kind of weight. I felt often players get told they need to put on weight, just as a general term, and that can sometimes get confused. Maybe they put on bad weight just to get to a number, so they can tell their coaches or management
that 'hey, I weigh this amount.'”
Being able to add the right type of weight, and constantly improve on the ice, is something forward Chase De Leo takes pride in. In four years with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, De Leo’s
point totals climbed from 30 in 2011-2012, to 84 this past season.
“I think that's a big part of my game, consistency. I think at the next level, I think that's important. Every year since I was 16 in the WHL, I've wanted to improve,” De Leo said. “Whether it was my strength, speed, my two-way game, or face-offs. I think I've proven that at the junior level,
and I look forward to carrying that on at the pro level.”
Now 19-years-old, and a two-way contract signed with the Winnipeg Jets, the opportunity to play in MTS Centre at the professional level is one step closer.
“Just being here again this year you see all the fans just coming to watch us get bag skated. I don't know who wants to come watch us get skated with no pucks, but I think it's pretty special,” De Leo said with a laugh. “Even just watching playoffs last year, you get the chills watching on TV. Couldn't even focus on the game because the fans were so crazy. Definitely excited to get that opportunity obviously, and do whatever I can to help the team win.”
And as the week of De Leo’s second development camp winds down with tomorrow’s Team Roy vs Team Keane game at MTS Iceplex, he knows the work is far from over.
“I've been waiting for this for a long time,” he said. “I'm just waiting for an opportunity. Whatever the Jets think I need to work on or improve on, I'm willing to do.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com