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Draft prospects given the ultimate workout

by Adam Kimelman

Draft prospects, like Steven Stamkos, were subjected to various physical tests and measurements which pushed the players to their physical limits, and in some cases, even further.
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TORONTO -- After four days of interviews, some of the best and brightest available for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft were brought into a ballroom at the Westin Bristol Place Toronto Airport Hotel and put to the ultimate physical test.

Friday marked the first day of physical testing for the draft hopefuls. The players were poked, prodded and pushed to their physical peak at stations arrayed around the room.

Most thought they were ready for what awaited them; very quickly, they all found out how wrong they were.

“When you first walk in you think, ‘Holy cow, there’s a ton of people watching me,’ but after a while you just put all that stuff aside,” said Luke Schenn, the Kelowna Rockets’ defenseman ranked fifth by NHL Central Scouting. “You just want to do well for yourself. I’ve been training a long time for this and you just want to prove to yourself that you can do it.”

Schenn had to do it in front of a room packed with scouts, GMs and strength and conditioning coaches, all watching intently and making notes that could determine their team’s final list heading to the Draft, June 20-21 in Ottawa.

Since there are no skating components to the fitness tests, teams stress that what they saw Friday – and will see more of Saturday, when the testing continues – all becomes part of the mosaic that is their draft board.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle,” said Detroit Red Wings Assistant General Manager Jim Nill. “For some kids it’s a bigger piece than others. You have to remember you’re watching them as a hockey player. You can have someone that can bench press 300 pounds, but if they can’t handle the puck, it doesn’t matter.

“In the end, it’s all projection … it’s projection on the ice and it’s projection here, too. Can he get stronger? Some guys can’t. And same thing on the ice – some guys will get better, some guys can’t. It’s all projection. That’s the tough part of the business.”

For the players, the tough part was surviving the grueling challenges laid out before them.

After a routine medical exam, players had their height, weight, wingspan and body fat measured. After that, it was a turn through a series of strength tests that measured players’ upper body and grip strengths. Their vertical leap also was measured.

Next was an agility station, which included balancing on a board laid across a ball cut in half.

The hardest parts were saved for last – a pair of bike rides that took the draft prospects on a trip to the end of their own personal physical limits, and sometimes beyond.

The twin nightmares were the Wingate Cycle Ergometer test, which measures anaerobic fitness, followed by the VO2 Max test, which measures aerobic endurance.

The first part of the dual stationary bike tests was the Wingate, which lasts about five minutes, but concludes with a brutal, 30-second all-out sprint, with trainers screaming in the players’ ears to implore them to pedal as fast and as hard as they could. The screaming could be heard 50 feet outside the ballroom.

“I was thinking I wished they would shut up,” said Guelph Storm netminder Thomas McCollum, the top-ranked North American goalie.

Most of the players finished the test and collapsed on chairs set up nearby, while others just fell right to the floor. A number became physically ill.

After about a 10-minute break, the players were back on a different set of bikes. This time, a mouthpiece was used to measure the amount of oxygen going in and out of their bodies to determine the peak amount of oxygen they utilized during long-term, strenuous activity.

The combination of the two tests left some of the fittest players on their hands and knees in pain.

“You can’t really expect or tell what those things are going to be like until you go through it and feel the after-effects,” said Steven Stamkos, Central Scouting’s top-rated prospect. “It’s pretty tough; I’m definitely glad it’s all over with.”

“I wasn’t expecting it to go as long as it did, so at the end I was pretty dead,” added Tyler Myers, the Kelowna Rockets defenseman ranked No. 4 by Central Scouting.

As hard as the tests were, they all finished, and that in and of itself means more to the NHL scouts and personnel people than the results.

“What I look for is whether these kids can fight through it when it gets really hard, really difficult, later into the testing,” said Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon. “What their hearts are. If they continue to fight through it while struggling through it, that’s what I look at.

“It’s how they approach it and how they go about it. The results aren’t as important as the desire and the character is.”

Many said the testing was unlike anything they ever had experienced, but say it was worth it if it helps their draft position.

“If it helps me get drafted,” said Joe Colborne, the 28th-ranked skater and Junior A star from the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, “than it was worth it.”

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