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Different strokes for different folks

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
For prospects who took part in the Senators development camp, time off after a hard week of on-ice and off-ice work was a must (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

(Editor's note: This is the second of a four-part series about off-season training, which has become a vital part of the year for the Ottawa Senators and players around the National Hockey League).

The foundation should be firmly in place.

Now the heavy slugging starts in earnest as Ottawa Senators players pick up the pace in their off-season training programs. But Phase 2 of that process, as it's called, varies from player to player and for a variety of reasons.

"For the veterans, (phase) 1 and 2 are somewhat similar," said Chris Schwarz, the Senators' strength and conditioning coach. "It’s just the workloads are a lot higher. We push them pretty hard in June to try to get them up for July. Then we increment it slower (from there).

"For a younger guy, we’re doing the same thing but we might push them a little harder, depending on the player."

But for the 31 players who took part in Senators development camp earlier this month, a little bit of a pullback preceded the next push. And that was a necessity for them, said Schwarz, after a taxing seven days' worth of work.

"The one thing about development camp is (those players) need to slow down for a week," he said.  "They come in and we put them through some gruelling tests and training, on and off ice. So they have a hard week, then we give them a little bit of time off after. If you don’t give them that time, they’ll be burnt out once they get to August."

That flies in the face of the overall philosophy of summer workout plans, which are designed to have the player in optimal shape and condition when training camp rolls around in September.

"Younger players are probably in the gym more than older players," said Schwarz. "The younger players need the work, but the older players already have … I call it man strength. They already have wear and tear on their bodies and we’ve got to make sure we’re not putting too much wear and tear on them in the summer time.

"It’s all about getting them feeling good and feeling fresh in September and feeling strong."

While Schwarz is the point man for building off-season programs for the Senators players, he also knows not to mess too much with what might be working for a team veteran. Especially someone like new acquisition Sergei Gonchar, a 36-year-old blueliner who has managed to establish a routine he's comfortable with over 15 National Hockey League seasons.

"My personal approach is when these guys have been in the league a long time, they know generally what works for them and you have to incorporate that (into their training)," said Schwarz. "You can’t say ‘here’s the recipe for the next year, you’re going to cook with my cookbook.’ It doesn’t work that way. You have to see what works for them, what doesn’t work for them and make suggestions. 

"My personal approach is when these guys have been in the league a long time, they know generally what works for them and you have to incorporate that (into their training). You can’t say ‘here’s the recipe for the next year, you’re going to cook with my cookbook.’ It doesn’t work that way. You have to see what works for them, what doesn’t work for them and make suggestions ... As you get older, you find that you need less time and you know when to be intense with your workouts and when to be less intense." - Chris Schwarz
"With Sergei, his attention to detail about his body is really good. He knows what to do, how much, and when he needs to do it. As you get older, you find that you need less time and you know when to be intense with your workouts and when to be less intense."

What's also important, Schwarz said, is to tailor a workout program to various types of players. Mobile blueliners such as Gonchar and Erik Karlsson, for example, need to protect that element of their game because it's what makes them most effective at what they do.

"That’s one thing about training that has changed so much in the last five years," said Schwarz. "Yes, you need power and strength, but not if you sacrifice mobility. That’s (Gonchar's) game, to be able to move and shift, walk the line and do things that he needs to be able to do. As a strength coach, you’ve got to be able to know the player, know his game and make sure that what you’re doing is not going to affect his game.

"If we put 20 pounds on Erik Karlsson, he’s not as mobile. But if we put 10 pounds on and allow him to adapt to that, he’ll be fine ... With the programs themselves, you really have to take into account the player and the type of game that they play. Erik will probably play his career at 185 pounds. But someone like Jared Cowen has the build and the ability to play at 240."

Maintaining athleticism in the summer months is also vital. Gonchar and captain Daniel Alfredsson play a lot of tennis during the off-season. Schwarz often takes a group of players out for a squash session. Others might try an informal game of basketball.

"I’m a big believer in weight training, getting stronger and getting more powerful," said Schwarz.  "But make sure you keep athletic. You don’t want to be athletic all (season), then for four months not be an athlete and just go in the weight room and push weights ... It’s all about making sure you have enough of everything in your routine."



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