Those who have it will enjoy success – those who don’t, well…
New Pittsburgh strength and conditioning coach Stephane Dube is making sure the Penguins are prepared to compete in the new, speed-dependant environment.
“The way I see it, you have to go with the basis of the sport. This game is about speed more than ever,” Dube said. “We hit the weight room because you have to be strong to be fast. We pay a lot of attention to speed, endurance, balance and coordination.
“You need to be way stronger in football and you need to be way stronger in the old NHL with all the hooking and obstruction. It was much more of a strength battle then. Now, it’s all about speed.”
Dube took over his new role in Pittsburgh on Dec. 15 when he came with head coach Michel Therrien and assistant coach Mike Yeo from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins, Pittsburgh’s top minor league affiliate.
“Coming in during the middle of the season is not easy,” Dube said. “I will always remember that day on Dec. 15. It’s not only the job that changed, but it’s my life also.”
However, Dube, Therrien and Yeo had one unique advantage – familiarity with many of the Penguins’ young players, who had come through the ranks in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In addition, all three worked with the Penguins during training camps as well.
“Coming in here and knowing everyone, that made it easy for us to do the transition between what we’ve been doing and here,” Dube said. “Guys are used to a routine and, obviously, we broke that routine. They put a new system on the ice, but we put a different philosophy not only in the weight room, but in general preparation. Knowing that more than half the team that knows exactly what I expect from them has made it easier. The veterans are looking at me and how the other guys are going and that makes it easier for me.”
Indeed. The Penguins have 12 players on their current roster who spent time in Wilkes-Barre during Dube’s two and a half seasons there.
“It’s real exciting to be here knowing we have a bright future with all these young guys, too,” Dube said.
Dube has a long working relationship with Therrien. The two have joined forces, off and on, for the past 14 seasons.
“To be honest with you, we have a great relationship. We have been working together since 1992, so it’s been quite a journey,” Dube said. “When I met him, I was still in college and finishing my degree. There is a trust relationship between us – that’s the big thing. I loved to work with him. I have worked with different coaches throughout my life, but with Michel, I have the green light on everything. He respects a lot of what I have been doing because we’ve won pretty much wherever we’ve been together.
“We had success in the past. I don’t have to justify anything and that’s big,” he continued. “I am in the position where I can suggest to Michel, ‘Hey, I think we should push a little harder on that practice there or cut down a little on this practice here.’ I am not saying he is going to do it every time, but he is really open-minded to what I am bringing to the table because he knows it’s what is in the best interest of the team. We’ve been doing that for so long. That’s one of the reasons why it is really fun to work with him.”
Dube worked with Therrien when both were in Laval of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in the early 1990s. The two moved to Grandby of the QMJHL in the 1995-96 season and captured the Memorial Cup. They worked together again with Montreal’s American Hockey League affiliate in Fredericton before Dube was promoted to be the Canadiens’ strength and conditioning coach for three seasons (1998-2001).
After Dube left Montreal, he worked with the University du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres hockey team as it won back-to-back national titles. When Therrien was hired to coach Wilkes-Barre/Scranton prior to the start of the 2003-04 season, he called Dube, who has been part of the staff ever since.
Now, the focus is on putting the Penguins players in the best position to succeed on the ice.
“You want to make sure your best players are going to be fast from the first minute to the last minute. A year in the NHL is a grind, but this year is even worse with the Olympic break,” Dube said. “You want to manage everything so you’re sure everyone is going to have enough gas to get through the season. Conditioning is a 12-month process now. It’s not like what it used to be.”
Dube believes his biggest impact will come in the summer months in preparation for next season.
“During the season, we’re trying to maintain what we’ve gained during the summer. That’s basically what we’re trying to do in the NHL,” Dube said. “In the AHL, it’s a bit different because it’s a weekend league and you’re mostly playing games Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then you have four days to recover and train and prepare. You’re not training the same way in the minors that you are in the NHL. Half the team was already working with me in the summer, so for them it’s nothing new.
“This summer is going to be a big summer for us. There are new things that we want to bring,” he continued. “We have a different approach – a new way to have a good follow-up on our players. And not only the ones here, but the players in the minors. I was already in charge of the young guys in the summer. Even though they were all over the place, we were already taking care of these guys.”
Dube will customize workout plans for each player to follow in the summer months.
“Summer is going to be huge for all our guys. It’s a little too soon to say the way we’re going to set up our plans. Every two or three weeks, they will have a new phase coming in,” Dube said. “Everyone has their own program according to what they need to improve. You don’t work with Sidney Crosby the same way you work with John LeClair. You don’t work the same way with Ryan Malone that I am going to work with Max Talbot. We modify everybody’s program to everybody’s needs, physical background, age, injuries. [Head athletic trainer] Mark Mortland and I are going to work hard for a rehab program, too, for whoever needs it.”
The 34-year-old has a good feel for the different types of players the Penguins have. He works hands-on with the players every day.
“It’s complex, but I am into it. When we’re looking at a game and the coaches are making a breakdown of what the players need to do against opponents, it’s pretty simple for me,” he said. “There are a lot of things to break down when you evaluate the type of program you’re going to need. It’s much more than saying, ‘Do this exercise this many times or for that many reps.’ It’s a combination of the resting interval, too. It’s where you want this guy to be and the way you want to build him.
“You don’t want everyone to hit their peak at the same time, in terms of conditioning. For a veteran like Mark Recchi, he doesn’t need to be 100 percent for the first day of [training] camp. Why? Because he has been in the league for a long time and is going to use the training camp to get the last 10 percent of his peak conditioning. A rookie like Erik Christensen this year, he needed to be 100 percent at camp because he wanted to make the team.
“There is a certain amount of reserve that you have and you need to use it for the whole year.”
However, Dube won’t remain in Pittsburgh exclusively. He will continue to go back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to work with the Baby Penguins as well as monitor Pittsburgh’s prospects in Wheeling.
“I am still going to be involved in Wilkes-Barre because I truly believe in the fact that we have to be in touch with our young prospects,” he said. “If I spend all my time here and I don’t spend any of my attention to these guys in the minors and all our young prospects are not getting the right environment, in a couple years we’re going to be back to square one. That’s the way I see it.
“It has to be across the board, too. You can’t look at the guys in Wheeling and say, ‘We’re not going to take care of them,’” he continued. “The best example of that is Michel Ouellet. He played in Wheeling four years ago. I remember when I met him for the first time. He had no speed at all and everyone was telling me he had great hands, but he can’t skate. We paid a lot of attention to him and worked a lot with him. He was willing to work and he wanted to make it. Now, he’s in the NHL and I believe he is going to have a great career because he has a great hockey sense and great hands. He’s a very good hockey player. If you overlook the guys in Wheeling, you’re totally wrong because you always look for a diamond in the rough.”
Dube has already set up strength and conditioning plans this season for the Nailers.
“[Head coach] Glenn Patrick, I worked closely with him. I already made the maintenance plan for the year for his guys in Wheeling. We sat down at training camp and did it,” Dube said. “We have a really good relationship. He’s a guy who really believes in what I have been doing. I made the plan for days off, where to work out, where to put more volume in his practices, etc.”
Dube, a Montreal native, will return there in the summer to help run his company called Sports Peak Performance, which works with various athletes. However, he’s enjoying his stay in Pittsburgh during the season.
“Everybody is asking me how it’s going here and I always say, ‘It’s another day in paradise for me.’ Quite honestly, I have been saying that since the first day I worked in hockey and that was back to juniors,” he said. “Just being around a locker room – it’s hockey. You just love being around the rink. I am really happy how things have gone.”