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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres

With two major injuries to deal with late in his career, Gary Roberts began to focus more on his physical conditioning to continue playing in the NHL. What started off as protein shakes and healthy snacks has now evolved into the Gary Roberts High Performance Centre, a multifaceted program based out of a gym in North Toronto where the 46-year-old Roberts now trains some of the league’s young stars – Sabres forward Cody Hodgson among them – using the same methods that extended his career to age 43.

But this isn’t your ordinary gym. Roberts and his team of trainers prepare a regimen of hockey-specific exercises for each player, while providing them with organic meals and snacks to fuel their bodies each day. Starting in late May, an all-star cast of players that includes Hodgson, Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner and James Neal began a three-phase workout plan to prepare them for the upcoming season. visited Roberts at his gym in Toronto recently, where he explained the philosophies behind his training and nutritional programs.

How would you describe the program as a whole?

It really is about lifestyle. I try to make a lot of guys say that ‘my workouts have become my lifestyle.’ It’s the whole program: the treatment, the nutrition – and I often say the training is last, because if you’re not prepared to do the first two, there’s no use doing the third. You can’t train like this if you’re not fueling yourself properly, and if you’re not getting what I call body maintenance – whether that’s stretching or massage.

For me, I know what I went through with the challenges I had in my career, including the rehab that I did to continue playing. I’m hoping to help these guys avoid some of those challenges by paying closer attention to this stuff when they’re younger. I truly believe they will be elite players for a longer period of time – and healthier – if they live this way.

Is there one specific message that you’re trying to get across to the players?

There’s no secret; if you live the right lifestyle, if you eat properly, if you rest properly and if you recover properly, you get further ahead in your training. Hopefully it gives you a better season and a healthier season. That’s really what the guys are striving for. Nobody wants to be injured. Sometimes it takes going through a slump or a bad injury to make you realize that you really aren’t invincible. We all think that when we’re young. But eventually that time ends, and if you haven’t been paying attention to what we’re doing here, then you’re trying to do it at 27 or 28, and it’s harder. The guys will tell you that if you have to figure out at 30 what it takes to become an elite player, it’s much harder. Guys like Stamkos, Hodgson, Skinner and Neal have embraced the program; you can see that the success is starting to carry over on the ice. When they see that, it’s a lot easier for me to convince them to buy into it every day.

Is your purpose simply to prepare a player for training camp, or is it a year-round commitment?

I don’t like to say getting ready for training camp, because they’re getting ready to last 100 and something games. That’s kind of the mentality I take. It’s not about just preparing for the training camp test; it’s about they are going to feel in February and March, leading up to playoffs. That’s where I become a coach to these guys, reminding them they need to keep doing some of the stuff when they leave here so that they are ready for the playoffs. Everybody thinks that when they leave in September, they stop working out and now they are just hockey players. The guys that do that, by January or February they are starting to break down – their energy levels are lower and their nervous system isn’t stimulated because they’re not loading the body with anymore. So it’s mandatory to do strength maintenance workouts in season, so when playoffs come they are still in September shape. That’s the key, because then they feel stimulated and balanced throughout the winter time.

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