What a day. I’m exhausted and I didn’t even have to do anything strenuous – I can only imagine how the prospects feel.
Today marked the first day of fitness testing here at the NHL Combine. It began bright and early – 8:30 a.m. – and our website team was struggling to be awake. I'm just glad we didn't have to sweat it out like the players did.
Overall, our day lasted until about 5 p.m. We spoke with 20 players and both Penguins representatives at the Toronto International Centre, Jay Heinbuck (director of amateur scouting) and Joe Lorincz (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton strength and conditioning coach). By the time we spoke to the last prospect we’d circled on our schedule, I could have asked my list of questions in my sleep.
Tomorrow won’t last nearly as long as today did. There are only five groups instead of eight and they’re scheduled to be done testing by 2:30 p.m. instead of 6:30 p.m. There are a few guys we’re planning to get, but we got most of who we needed today.
WHAT WENT DOWN
The setup at the International Centre is actually really cool. It’s the NHL’s first time conducting the fitness tests at this building; last year everything took place at the Toronto Congress Centre.
The tests themselves lined the perimeter of a spacious room. The strength and conditioning coaches doing the evaluations sat at tables placed just outside the stations, while team personnel milled around the rest of the room. TSN and NHL Network had two stages set up on the left side, while the media had a riser at the back wall just inside the entrance. Lots of people and cameras everywhere. It had to be somewhat overwhelming for the players.
The groups began by working their way down a wall of different stations, where the tests included:
•Body Fat (Skinfold Measurement)
•Standing Long Jump
•Jump Training Mat
Once they finished those, the prospects moved to the far back wall – where the infamous bike tests awaited them (insert scary music here).
The Wingate Ergometer Test is geared to see how much energy a player uses during a 30-second shift, while the VO2 Max Test measures a player’s endurance. The Wingate tells you what a player’s got left at the end of a 30-second shift, while the VO2 Max shows what a player’s got left at the end of a game. Wingate: aerobic. VO2 Max: anaerobic. Both tests: brutal.
WATCH: This is freakin' awesome: the NHL had a camera follow Nail Yakupov as he did all of the fitness tests. No one else was able to get this close, so this is real legit.
WHAT REALLY MATTERS?
What’s nice about those tests is they tell you a lot about a kid’s character. If he has quit in him or if he competes. It’s actually really nice to see all the body language and everything like that, because it usually gives you a good indicator of a guy’s character. That’s what I’m looking for in those tests: did they give it their all or did they quit?” - WBS strength and conditioning coach Joe Lorincz
The room was filled with GMs, scouts and personnel from all 30 NHL teams watching and evaluating. I’m the kind of person who likes working out alone, so I can’t even imagine how much pressure these kids felt under so much scrutiny – especially players who had dealt with long-term injuries during the season. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of those in this draft class, so the prospects who did miss a lot of time had a lot of people watching closely to see how they handled the testing.
“I didn’t know what was happening. A lot of people and a lot of media,” said Alex Galchenyuk, who tore his ACL during the 2011-12 preseason. “Everyone’s looking at you after you obviously didn’t play much during the year and everybody’s looking closely to you to see how healthy you are.”
But while the players all want to do well, Lorincz told me he isn't necessarily looking the best scores. Especially on the Wingate and the VO2.
“What’s nice about those tests is they tell you a lot about a kid’s character,” he said. “If he has quit in him or if he competes. It’s actually really nice to see all the body language and everything like that, because it usually gives you a good indicator of a guy’s character. That’s what I’m looking for in those tests: did they give it their all or did they quit?”
Because, like Lorincz pointed out, these players all have different training experiences and backgrounds.
“It’s kind of hard to tell where a guy’s at because he might be more well-trained than another player,” he explained. “Or there’s also the possibility that some guys just finished playing in the Memorial Cup, so they’re a bit more fatigued.”
Take Olli Maataa, for example. Maatta, a defenseman for the London Knights and teammate of Pens 2011 second-round pick Scott Harrington, played in the Memorial Cup championship final – which went to overtime – on Sunday night. The next day London hosted a parade for its team, which lasted all day. Maatta went to bed exhausted that evening, and had to come straight here when he woke up the next day. Meanwhile, other guys’ seasons have been over since March.
So while the fitness tests are important, they’re usually not make-or-break.
Here's a few scenic shots...
Left: Bike tests on the back wall. Right: Patrick Sieloff doing the VO2 Max test.
Left: Screens everywhere showed the prospects' progress as they made their way through the stations. Right: The TSN and NHL Network stages being constructed.
RIDING THE BIKES
I mean, having NHL general managers walking around watching you has to be scary enough. But the intensity gets taken to another level on those bike tests.
I know I keep coming back to those, but I’m just trying to get across how intense they are.
|Nail Yakupov mentally prepares himself for the Wingate. |
Each player would do the first bike test, recover, then finish their day with the second bike test. After they got done, they’d go straight into a closed-off corner of the room where they could puke in private. After they finished fighting to keep their breakfasts and lunches down (many unsuccessfully), they’d come out and talk to us.
Part of what made those tests so intense was all the screaming. The people monitoring the Wingate would yell words of motivation at the lucky prospects astride the bikes as they neared the end of their 30-second sprint to keep them going and make sure they did as well as they could. Even though I knew that was going to happen from covering last year’s Combine, it still made me jump the first time when all that ruckus broke out in an otherwise quiet room.
| ||"So if u guys think that u won't puke if u don't eat anything ur wrong! #newresearch #disgustingtweet" |
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I wrote down exactly what the people running the Wingate screamed at one poor prospect as he frantically sprinted. Here’s the exact dialogue:
“Go go go!
Push and pull!
Drive drive drive!
Come on, come on!
Go go go go go go go!
Keep it going!
Almost there, almost there!”
Jacob Trouba had to laugh afterward when talking about all the commotion, saying, “It’s not something you get to do every day. It’s fun. When does that ever happen in your life? This is probably the only place.”
“I’m certainly not used to that in a training environment, but I guess it helps a little bit,” added Morgan Rielly.
I had actually considered doing the bike tests myself for a PensTV feature leading into the Combine. Really glad it didn't work out. Ha. My colleague Meghan McManimon, who's the other PensTV camera operator on this trip, did offer to yell at me like that while I write stories for extra motivation. Thanks Meg, but I think I'll pass.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
The name Samuelsson is a familiar one to Pens fans. It’s the surname of two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Ulf and his son Philip, taken by Pittsburgh in the second round (61st overall) of the 2009 NHL Draft.
So when I saw the name Samuelsson on this year’s list of top prospects when I started doing my research, I checked immediately and saw that Henrik, a forward for the Edmonton Oil Kings and NHL Central Scouting’s 75th-ranked North American skater, is indeed Ulf’s youngest son.
And, according to Henrik – who's a sizeable 6-foot-2, 211 pounds – his playing style is similar to that of his father’s.
“I’m a little bit like my dad in the physical game. I like to play chippy,” he said. “I’m a big-bodied power forward that plays with an edge and has a lot of skill, too.”
Though Henrik was born two years after Ulf won his second of back-to-back Cups with Pittsburgh, the city is special to their entire family – and he can’t wait to head there for the draft.
“Having the draft in Pittsburgh will be pretty neat for my dad and myself,” he said. “I’m excited to go to Pittsburgh. That would definitely be keeping it in the family. It’d be super special for me with my dad there and I think my brother’s coming, too.”
Do you see the resemblance between Henrik and his dad, Ulf?
One reporter was on a mission to see how many guys he could get to admit that they got sick following the bike tests. He doggedly asked everyone he spoke with if they had puked afterward. Most of them sidestepped the question artfully and some answered truthfully, but the best response came from Nail Yakupov. The charismatic Russian said the bike tests were actually his favorite, that he'd been preparing for them prior to this so, as he said with a laugh and big smile, "It was easy for me."
There’s still a lot more I want to touch on, but I’ll save it all for my wrapup of the entire event. We’ll be heading back to Pittsburgh in the Pens Inside Coupe right after we finish Saturday’s coverage, so I’ll have another blog up sometime in the evening or on Sunday.