Andy O’Brien has a busy summer planned.
Entering his third season as the Panthers strength and conditioning coach, O’Brien will be traveling throughout North America the next several months checking on players and working with Panther rookies at Prospects Camp outside Toronto and Development Camp in Kitchener, Ont.
But even before he launches his summer tour, O’Brien is spending much of his time at the BankAtlantic Center working each morning with Panther players.
On a recent weekday morning, O’Brien was working with nearly a dozen players including captain Olli Jokinen, forwards Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss
, and defensemen Bryan Allen and Branislav Mezei.
“It’s pretty standard for these guys now during the summer to prioritize around their off-season workouts,” O’Brien said. “It’s not just something they do in their spare time. It’s something they plan their life around.”
And something players want to be involved with.
According to Weiss, who set career highs last season in goals (20) and points (46), O’Brien’s workouts have been “huge for me personally, and a lot of the other guys.”
“He has a way of training that’s a lot different from other trainers I’ve seen,” he added. “Real hockey specific stuff that makes you stronger.”
O’Brien’s daily workouts begin with a two hour speed work at a nearby track that includes different types of sprints, lunges and plyometrics. The players then return to BankAtlantic Center for lifting and conditioning.
“The first phase (at the track) is just trying to get their bodies rebuilt,” O’Brien said. “It breaks down during the season. They end up having certain muscles getting really strong and certain muscles get really weak from skating because it’s not a real natural movement. So the objective is to try and strengthen some of those weak muscles and increase flexibility and get them going through a range of motions that are more optimal.”
Those include “marching drills and stretches and dynamic movements that help restructure their bodies so they’re stronger and can handle greater workloads,” O’Brien said. “The intensity of all the work generally increases more and more and more as the summer goes on.”
O’Brien, also known for his work with Sidney Crosby, customizes each player’s workout, including those currently recovering from surgery like Jokinen, Allen and Mezei.
“The main focus for them right now is on their rehabilitation,” said O’Brien of those coming out of surgery. “They’re really focused on overcoming their injury but also making sure they don’t lose their fitness while rehabbing.
“It’s difficult to be aggressive in their training right now because you don’t want them in a position where their body is going to break down,” he added. “That’s why we get so many of these surgeries down earlier in the (off-season) so they have a window where they can still have a significant amount of time in the summer to get their bodies fit and ready.”
While players of the past may have taken several weeks or months off after the season, O’Brien said those days are long gone.
“When you go through a period of three or four weeks of doing nothing, which is sort of the old-school mentality, your body really stiffens up,” he said. “Your body goes through a period of de-training and its almost that much time again to get your body ready to actually train.”