VANCOUVER -- Devan Dubnyk's journey from playing in the American Hockey League in 2014, to being a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2015 and NHL All-Star in 2016 may seem like a short one, but it wasn't easy for the Minnesota Wild goaltender.
The hardest parts were done with his personal trainer, Adam Francilia.
Dubnyk met Francilia late in the summer after spending the 2013-14 season bouncing around, and ultimately out of, the NHL. They started working together to rebuild Dubnyk's body, widening and stabilizing his butterfly, strengthening his movements, even changing the way he eats with all-natural meals cooked by Francilia.
For Dubnyk, it was eye opening, and a struggle at times, but worth it.
"He's just so specific to what we do, which is a breath of fresh air," Dubnyk said. "It's all stability. Everything we do we seem to be holding ourselves up on our hands, so everything has to be firing. I've noticed it big time."
Dubnyk isn't the only goaltender benefitting from Francilia's year-round training and nutrition program, which includes visiting his eight NHL clients three times a season to provide physical adjustments and cook and freeze enough organic food to get them through until his next visit. In addition to a handful of skaters, the list of NHL goalie clients includes James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Eddie Lack of the Carolina Hurricanes and Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders.
"Adam is money for goalies and he just loves the positon and loves to work on different movements you need to be strong," said Reimer, who has worked with Francilia for seven years. "We put the same jersey on but we play a different sport than everyone else. So we do so much more stuff that is just specific to goaltending. We're not doing heavy squats, we're not doing deadlifts, we're just doing stuff that is super specific to goalies. You want to be strong and stable in the end range of your movements."
That may sound like common sense, but the reality is some teams still ask goalies to meet the same physical preseason testing minimums as skaters, even though some of the exercises are not only unhelpful, but can even be detrimental to stopping pucks.
"The neurological demands, the reaction time, the nervous system, recovery, are all unique to the positon," Francilia said. "I have spent the better part of 16 years developing a position-specific protocol for dryland training."
That includes what Francilia called dry-ice training, bringing off-ice training to the rink by using resistance bands attached to goaltenders.
"That's been fascinating," said Francilia, who attaches goalies to a harness and closely analyzes the impact on typical goalie movement patterns on the ice. "When they are pushing against the resistance we overload the muscles to work them, but if there is a weakness it becomes magnified because they are pushing beyond their body weight. Coming back with the band helping, they get over speed so I can watch what happens with their braking system and if they are compensating. It's not just guys flying back and forth with a resistance band."
It's not uncommon for a coach to say a goalie is faster in one direction; watching skating and movement patterns with and without the resistance band helps Francilia isolate the physiological cause. Just as goalies are different from skaters, each goaltender has unique strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed on and off the ice.
Through his work with goaltending coaches, Francilia is able to marry the physical with the technical, matching what he sees in the gym to how the goalie moves on the ice.
He's seen how the two evolve over three seasons working with Greiss.
"He's strong like an ox but he wasn't fast enough and his core strength wasn't where it should be," said Francilia, who watches all his clients' games. "So he'd flop a lot."
They focused on power initiation to improve that speed but then last season Francilia noticed Greiss hadn't developed the stopping power to match.
"He couldn't stop well enough to prevent getting out of the play," Francilia said. "Some goals he was in a different postal code. So we worked on braking efficiently and re-initiating a push in the other direction. Now he's moving to positon quickly but able to stop and not have any of the superfluous movement I saw last year."
With Lack, who started working with Francilia in September, the focus began with nutrition and building up his immune system. But when the Hurricanes goalie flew to British Columbia during the All-Star break to work with Francilia and personal goaltending coach Lyle Mast, they were also able to restructure his posture and stance, a process that will continue in the offseason.
"It puts less strain in my body," Lack said. "I feel I can move more freely than the beginning of the season, when I was tied up and I felt stiff out there a lot. I'm not putting that much strain on my back and I feel I can get a harder push."
In Dubnyk's case, the early focus was on increasing the functional range of motion his long arms and legs could apply power through, first stabilizing his joints in isolation, then integrating that into movements, and finally transferring it into power. It was all new to Dubnyk, making it a frustrating process at times, but it's paying off now.
"A lot of stuff we do, guys have never seen before and it's quite a tough adaptation process," Francilia said. "But [Dubnyk] is super coordinated and he learns very quickly."
Dubnyk is excited to get back on the ice earlier this summer, and Francilia has been working in what he calls "the brain lab" to come up with new ways to reinforce the head trajectory and puck tracking philosophies that Mast has been teaching Reimer, Dubnyk and Lack.
One of the big challenges for goalies learning it later in their careers is getting rid of the counter-rotation habits that pull them off the puck prior to and during lateral movements, which cause delays and move them out of the space they should be filling.
"I've developed a series of protocols to help the brain and core musculature elicit as instantaneous a response as we can to override that counter rotation," Francilia said. "To fire specific muscles that stabilize and keep the body connected to that movement."
In simple terms, Francilia has figured out what muscles need to fire, created exercises that elicit the proper firing pattern, and can now use them in a repetitive fashion, with proper puck-tracking stimulus, to make the response more automatic for his goalies.
"When learning a new thing the body sometimes has to wake up new muscles," he said.
Dubnyk, Reimer, Greiss and Lack know all about that. They also know it's not always easy to wake those muscles up the first few times, but it's worth it in the long run.