(Editor's note: This is the third 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).
|With about five weeks to go before the arrival of training camp, speed and agility become more of a focus for the Senators in their off-ice training programs (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Wise words that any National Hockey League player must heed as he contemplates the grind of another long season in front of him.
All of which means very defined peaks and valleys over the next month, as Ottawa Senators players work toward being in exactly the right place for the opening of another training camp in five weeks.
"We're still incorporating our strength work, but the movements are getting quicker and more explosive, all to peak them for Sept. 17 when they come in (for training camp)," said Chris Schwarz, the Senators' strength and conditioning coach. "So there’s going to be an up phase and then another down phase. (This) week we’re taking another recovery week, which is essential.
"We don’t take the full week off — we go back and re-correct things. If there’s any issues that we need to address, we address them this week. Then we start into our last phase, which is the ramp up toward camp and then the taper (just before it)."
Speed and agility are the focus right now, with Schwarz bringing in an old friend — former Canadian Olympic sprinter Sheridon Baptiste — "to teach the guys exactly how to run. It's great because it's another voice and because of his technical ability, he can pinpoint things for them."
With players also beginning to do more skating as August reaches its midpoint, Schwarz begins to tailor his off-ice workouts to match what's being done on the ice. That means a combination of speed work and conditioning becomes more prevalent in their training sessions.
"You always want your off-ice (training) to match your on-ice (work)," said Schwarz. "If I’m doing something off ice, I don’t want to redo it again on the ice. It just doesn’t make sense. I think that’s where our (training) works out pretty well. I know what our guys are doing on the ice when they come in here in mid-August or late August, so I can pair and match that with what I’m doing off the ice."
"You always want you off-ice (training) to match your on-ice (work). If I’m doing something off ice, I don’t want to redo it again on the ice. It just doesn’t make sense. I think that’s where our (training) works out pretty well. I know what our guys are doing on the ice when they come in here in mid-August or late August, so I can pair and match that with what I’m doing off the ice." - Chris Schwarz
As always, the intent is to have the players exactly where they need to be for training camp — and beyond. While the fitness testing done on the opening day of camp is a barometer of how well a player has prepared himself during the summer months, it's only one step in a lengthy journey.
"You need room to grow," said Schwarz. "I’ve seen it before in other places, where some of the top players in the fitness tests ... two weeks in (to camp), they’re invisible. You don’t see them, because they’re training for that one individual date. I think as things evolve over the years, you’re going to see less concentration on that specific training date. You’re going to say, this person’s in shape, great, they’re where we want them to be, but there’s room to grow.
"The best way to test somebody is probably three days in. You know if somebody’s in shape three days into training camp. That’s a pretty good gauge. A lot of the testing that we do, it’s a checkpoint, but the real checkpoint is what does the player look like and feel like in October when we’re trying to hit on full cylinders for our first game?"
That process is especially tricky for players such as Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek
, who are both fighting the clock, to a certain extent, as they try to recover from major off-season knee surgery while also trying to prepare themselves for camp. Both of them, Schwarz said, are "right on track" at the moment.
"Their phases are going to be a little bit different," said Schwarz. "They’ll be shortened to try to get them ready for camp. They’re both very strong guys, so we’re not looking at the extreme of a weak person who got hurt. We’re looking at some pretty strong men who got hurt. Now they need to get themselves up to par.
"The key here is working with good people and they both have good trainers. They’re working with them in conjunction with myself and our staff. The worst thing for us is for somebody to come back and they’re not prepared, and then we have to play catchup. That’s when it gets dangerous — you’ve got to train them on egg shells a little bit, but you’re trying to get them to a common goal and catch them up with everybody. It’s a lot more challenging."