Almost everywhere he turns, Chris Schwarz finds comfort in the familiar.
“The nice thing about Ottawa is that I know people here,” said the Senators’ new strength and conditioning coach. “I know how to make things happen.”
Let’s just say settling in has come a little easier for Schwarz here than at his previous National Hockey League stop. He spent two seasons with the New York Islanders organization before deciding to return to his hometown.
As luck would have it, the Senators were in the market for a new strength and conditioning coach and decided Schwarz, who spent three seasons working with the Ottawa 67's before moving on to Long Island, was the right man for the job.
"It was fantastic," said Schwarz, who is also a partner in the Ottawa 67's Sport Performance Centre. "I resigned from the Islanders at the end of April, just more family (reasons). It was a good opportunity for me down there and I enjoyed myself.
"At the same time, our family was up here and my wife (Denise) wanted to come home and be productive. She couldn't work down there."
Now he's hard at work trying to help improve the Senators' performance level on the ice. Schwarz credits Randy Lee, the club's director of player development, with creating a good base for him to work with in Ottawa.
"Randy's done a good job over the years by just instilling good standards," he said. "You have to get in and set your standards and hold those standards. It's a tough job. Sometimes, you've got to take a guy and say 'this is what we need to get done.' And sometimes, you need to back off a bit when you know a player is a little fragile. They respect that. There needs to be a mutual respect factor.
"One thing that's been done in Ottawa is they've got good templates. When you have things in place that work, you just make little tweaks here and there ... so that it fits my beliefs and philosophies and is aligned with what's already going on here."
The job is unique, said Schwarz, "because you're somewhat in between a coach and the medical staff. You need to keep the credibility with the players, and the only way to keep that credibility is to know your stuff, but also be that confiding person who knows when to push them and when to pull them."
"Hockey is a different sport," he added. "I've worked with (athletes in) different sports before and in hockey, I find that most of the guys are from middle-income families. These guys work hard and they want to work hard. You just show them the way."
Schwarz, who grew up in nearby Carleton Place before heading off to Dalhousie University in Halifax, isn't entirely unfamiliar with this group of players. He's previously worked with Senators forward Shean Donovan, goaltender Pascal Leclaire and defenceman Chris Campoli, a former Islander.
"I've worked with a few (Senators) players in different settings and that helps break the ice with the other players," said Schwarz, 37, a father of two young children, daughter Paris, 5, and son Preston, 2.
While Schwarz works most closely with the current group of Senators, he also keeps tabs on prospects scattered across North America and beyond. For everyone, the issue of strength and conditioning has never been more important.
"You're somewhat in between a coach and the medical staff. You need to keep the credibility with the players and the only way to keep that credibility is to know your stuff, but also be that confiding person who knows when to push them and when to pull them." - Chris Schwarz
"It's huge," said Schwarz. "First of all, I think it's getting bigger and bigger in the organization because of what the organization needs to do financially with players. You have to bring in young players and develop them quickly in order to get them to a point where they can play (in the NHL) in a few short years. Like an Erik Karlsson
, who's very gifted but physically, we're trying to get him to be a little stronger.
"Individually, I think each player recognizes the other aspect of it. We're trying to keep them healthy. The longer they're healthy, the better the financial rewards they're going to have and they'll also succeed as a team."
Ultimately, he added, it's what shows up on the ice that matters most of all.
"I think it still comes back to play," said Schwarz. "I take the position that I'm only here to make these guys better on the ice. I'm not here to make them weight room athletes but if their performance is getting better on the ice, then I'm doing my job.
"Just because their squat (lift) is getting better and they're getting stronger... if their performance on the ice is lacking, then maybe we're not doing what we set out to do."