Sharks Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Mike Potenza works with Sharks left wing Jamie McGinn
Summertime means one thing professionally to hockey players – working out. There are no practices and no games before hitting the gym, which makes the workout much more beneficial for all involved.
For Sharks Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Mike Potenza, this is when he can work his magic.
“This is a fun time because I get to plan for a guy like Patty Marleau who enjoys physically training and who after 13 or 14 years wants to develop more and be a better player,” Potenza said. “He knows his strengths and his weaknesses and he’s trying to work on them in the weight room and on the track.”
Potenza, who’s starting his sixth year with the Sharks, is in charge of ensuring everybody shows up in September in the best possible condition. That can be a hard task considering the different needs of each individual player.
“Every guy needs a certain prescription,” Potenza said. “Younger guys generally need to continue to train because these are the years where they can be their strongest and fastest. It’s the way your body grows. The older guys, we have to worry about any potential for injury with them getting older.”
Age is one way Potenza can tailor player’s workouts, but their specific professional needs are what challenge him.
“There are guys that can skate better or be faster,” Potenza said. “There are guys that can be stronger, there are guys that can be in better condition so they can handle more minutes. Those are how I divide the details of how each guy has to become a little bit better.”
When all is said and done, it’s about 20 different plans for 20 different players, although Potenza is actually keeping track of everyone in the Sharks system.
“Technically I do,” Potenza said of his individualized plans for everybody. “I have my plans I give to the guys at the end of the season. It will get them ready for training camp and the year of hockey. There are also injury prevention items in there. That is the mandatory list of what they have to do to be ready for our season and for Todd’s (Sharks Coach McLellan) training camp.”
Potenza’s best case scenario is to have the players live year-round in San Jose so he personally monitor their conditioning.
“I love having the guys around in the summer time,” Potenza said. “It’s a time to recharge and be away from the rink and have their vacation. I worked in college athletics for a long time and the summer was an important time to help kids develop. They lived there. It was great and we had time to train. I took that idea when I came here and the first couple of years I had eight or nine guys. It was awesome. I enjoy them being here for the whole summer because it gives me time to work with them.”
However, the nature of the National Hockey League means that many players don’t stay in their team’s city during the offseason. The good news is the veterans know what they need to do. The concern comes with the younger players and prospects who haven’t developed that expertise. In that case, Potenza works with them remotely.
“The hard part becomes when you have a group of young rookies and draft picks not training with you,” Potenza said. “You have to help guide them through the summer and work with their personal strength coach for the summer. That happens in our sport and it’s okay. We just want them to know what our expectations are (for the season) and how we train. They have a responsibility to come (to camp) in the best shape of their lives to be ready to play.”
Surprisingly, Potenza doesn’t judge his success rate by how much weight a player can bench press.
“I judge our success by how many injuries we don’t get,” Potenza said. “I think Ray Tufts (Sharks Head Athletic Trainer) and I would say that’s the most important part and our most important contributing factor to our organization and our team. It’s not very difficult to get somebody stronger and faster. The key for us is that they continue to stay healthy. We can’t do anything with the contact injuries, those are out of our control. But we want to have minimal non-contact injuries like a pulled groin or a pulled hip flexor.”
Potenza also uses another immeasurable factor to gauge his success.
“The second area where I measure my program is how much confidence guys gain from their training,” Potenza said. “For instance, is Joe Pavelski
going to gain confidence by feeling stronger, which can protect the puck better against the wall?”
Where Potenza true success may lie is his ability to maintain the fitness level gained during the summer so the Sharks players have that extra little push in extended Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“We have to have that energy for the third and (overtime) period in the playoffs,” Potenza said. “Or even multiple overtime situations. I take pride in us being really good in that area and it’s important to Todd and his system.”
Potenza has to balance the Sharks deep playoff runs with the need to train, but surprisingly he doesn’t want to rush anybody into the training facility.
“The last few years we’ve only had about 12 weeks to prepare,” Potenza said. “Twelve weeks really isn’t much and we need to get the rest and recovery right away. It’s more important for guys to rest, recover and heal from any injuries right away than it is for them to begin their training. Guys may take a week off and I want them to heal even more. I have to explain that to them. The last two seasons, we’ve played until the conference finals and there’s going to be extended wear and tear on your body you want to guard against.”
There’s less than two months before the veterans start training camp and almost a month before the rookies need to be in San Jose. While no one knows how the Sharks will fare in 2011-12, there’s little doubt that they’ll be in the best possible physical condition – thanks to Potenza.