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by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
For the players, a full NHL season can be a grueling marathon. Few sports can compare with the intensity and grind of such a campaign. The seven-month regular season serves to take a tremendous toll on players -- this is especially the case this year due to the Olympics in which four Kings participated (Pavol Demitra, Lubomir Visnovsky, Alexander Frolov and Craig Conroy).

With the 2005-06 Kings season coming to a close, the concern shifts to what the players will do to recuperate and get ready for next season. Of particular importance to the off-season program is the first thirty days following the conclusion of the final game.

Mike Kadar, the Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Kings, is a strong advocate of rest for his players in the first month following the season.

"I like to see them take time off because it is such a grueling schedule," Kadar said. "It is not only the games that take a toll on their bodies but also thrown into the mix are the practices. The first month is all about rest and recovery."

Kadar did discuss the fact that although he promotes rest to his payers, it is up to the individual to decide how much rest he needs or can bear.

"Some players are fitness fanatics who want to get into their off-season workouts right away," Kadar said. "After a couple of weeks they feel guilty because their bodies feel different then when they were going full speed all the time."

The rest and recovery plays a vital role because otherwise players will encounter burnout and might run the risk of overtraining.

As an NHL veteran, Kings center Craig Conroy understands the importance of rest.

"The first thing I do is try to relax and let my body heal up," Conroy said. "Until you are finally done, you don't feel all the bumps and bruises but they are there."

Conroy admits that age plays a factor in how much time an athlete will give his body to recover. The common belief is that veterans will let their body rest for longer periods of time than young players who might recover faster. Conroy believes the opposite to be true.

"Being an older guy, I don't wait as long to start training," said the 34-year old center. "I usually wait two to three weeks depending on when I start feeling better."

Although Conroy starts training after just two to three weeks, he does admit that rest is crucial to his body performing at the best possible level.

The reason the schedule takes such a toll on your body lies in the nature of the game.

"You are breaking down muscles by not only training but also by playing with the physical contact of the game," Kadar said.

According to Kadar, hydrotherapy, the external use of water as a medical treatment, can be very effective in rejuvenating the body.

"I'm big on hydrotherapy, which includes hot and cold tubs," Kadar said. "These tubs serve to provide a pumping effect for your body. It removes the accumulation of lactic acids and other bi-products your body produces while working out. The hot water brings blood to the area that you worked and cold water constricts everything and pushes the blood out, therefore producing the pumping effect."

Although the body naturally rids itself of lactic acid, Kadar mentioned that he tries to promote the hot and cold-water treatment day in and day out because it serves to speed up the process.

Athletes also understand the importance of being mentally rested.

"The weeks off let your mind take a break," Conroy said. "It is a long year starting with training camp in September. When you don't make the playoffs, the mental fatigue becomes almost worst than the physical exhaustion because it is the only thing you can think about. It consumes you and you are always thinking you could have done certain things differently.

"You have to be able to let it go because there is nothing you can do about not making the playoffs now. You simply have to regroup with a positive mind-set and be ready for next year," Conroy said.

While there is a mental toll that takes place by not making the playoffs, physically it provides an opportunity for players to get extra time to rest. Players have an extra month to recover before starting to train.

"There is a trade-off with going to the Stanley Cup Finals," Kadar said "It is obviously where everyone wants to be, but when it comes to the body, the intensity of the games keep picking up to a point where you need July to rest."

It essentially puts you back on training because players aren't starting their routines until August, allowing only one month to get ready for training camps in September.

Diet is also a critical component of staying in shape during the first thirty days of the off-season.

According to Kadar, diet is 80-percent of the total package.

"You are what you eat" said the Kings Strength and Conditioning Coach. "If you put crummy stuff into your system, then that's how you will feel and look."

"While you need good habits, there is nothing wrong with the occasional hamburger as long as it is in moderation."

This train of thought is shared by Conroy who believes that while you don't want to constantly eat food that will get you out of shape, you have to be able to enjoy yourself a little bit.

"You don't want to splurge but you can go out and have a few drinks and relax," Conroy said. "You might, however, have to ride the bike for a little longer to burn off those extra calories."

The bottom line, according to Conroy, is that if you don't take any time off you are only hurting yourself.

"It is important to get away from the game so you are excited about it when you come back," Conroy said. "If you didn't take a break, you wouldn't look forward to going to the gym or going on the ice. It would feel like a never ending season."

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