(Editor's note: This is the last of a four-part series about off-season training, which has become a vital time of the year for the Ottawa Senators and players around the National Hockey League)
|For Chris Neil and the Senators, the hardest hours in the gym during the off-season are in the past, with the players itching to get back to the ice for training camp (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
For the most part, the heavy slugging is now out of the way.
And if all has gone according to plan, their off-season workout regimen should have Ottawa Senators players in peak condition for the opening of training camp — whether it's the rookies who will aim to display their wares on Sept. 9, or the veterans who'll arrive for the start of another season eight days later.
That's why you might catch Senators players kicking around a soccer ball at the Bell Sensplex fieldhouse these days or involved in some other physical intensity that's far less intense then the hard training that has formed the heart of their off-season. It's taper time at the moment for a group of players anxious to get back to the ice for real once more.
"It's tough right now because they've been training for a lot of weeks," said Chris Schwarz, the Senators' strength and conditioning coach. "So we're trying to play more games. They're itching to go, so I try to keep it a little more fun and you add the competitiveness into some of the drills we're doing.
"We're starting to lighten the loads a little bit and really trying to make sure they show up fresh for camp. That's the idea, that they feel good. So they're getting more soft-tissue work done with (head athletic therapist) Gerry Townend, (massage therapist) Shawn Markwick and (athletic therapist) Dom Nicoletta."
While those names all wear the Senators badge on a full-time basis, Schwarz counts on several outside "consultants" as well to help prepare the players for a new season. They include Sheridon Baptiste, a former Olympic sprinter and bobsledder; Guy Ouellette of Elite Martial Arts and Fitness Centre in Orleans, and power-skating specialist Marc Power, who is also a longtime regular at Senators development camp in July.
"(Ouellette) has been with us for years. He's fantastic and I work him right into some of the circuit (training)," said Schwarz. "Guy brings a lot of intensity and the guys love it. Again, it's another voice and not me over and over.
"To me right now, the training becomes very secondary to the point that we want the guys feeling good on the ice. If they come into a training session now and feel awful on the ice, that’s not a good training session. There will still be ups and downs to everything you do but on the whole, if they skate five days a week, I want them feeling good on at least three or four of those days." - Chris Schwarz
"I give all the credit in the world to these guys. They sit down with me as consultants and I say 'this is what I'd like to see done.' And they say 'this is what I'd like to get to' and then we make it all work so that the player benefits by having everything integrated together properly."
Thanks to that collaborative effort, Senators players get everything they need to put themselves in the right place for the beginning of another long 82-game grind. It's not exactly uncommon these days to have some players enter a new campaign on the heels of off-season surgery. This season, that group for the Senators includes forwards Daniel Alfredsson
, Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek
, along with defenceman Chris Campoli.
All of them will be monitored extra closely right from the opening day of training camp on Sept. 17, when medicals and fitness testing are done.
"The training they’re doing now is a little bit more controlled than some of the guys who are into the full scrimmage type of thing," said Schwarz. "But for sure, we’re paying attention to what we’re doing with him. What will also come into play is the testing we’re doing. Somebody who’s had knee surgery, we’re not going to have them doing lateral shuffles or agility hops. It’s not that they can’t do them, but it’s not in their best interest.
"If somebody has had a shoulder injury, they won’t do bench presses. We can test on that later, we can do all that later if we need to. Right now, the important thing is that they feel good on the ice."
At this stage of the game, the latter thought surely applies to every player coming to either rookie or main camp.
"To me right now, the training becomes very secondary to the point that we want the guys feeling good on the ice," said Schwarz. "If they come into a training session now and feel awful on the ice, that’s not a good training session. There will still be ups and downs to everything you do but on the whole, if they skate five days a week, I want them feeling good on at least three or four of those days."