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Skating test is the talk of training camp

Post-practice conditioning drill has been a staple of Wild coach's camp for more than a decade

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

ST. PAUL -- Few things in training camp get the juices flowing for a player more than Bruce Boudreau's day one skate test.

Days, even weeks, before hand, many players begin practicing the test on their own in an effort to be prepared -- or to simply gain confidence -- before the big day.

Friday was that day for nearly the entirety of the 69 players on the Wild's training camp roster. Only goaltenders, players that participated in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and Mikko Koivu were exempt from the test.

But even Koivu may not get away scot free.

The team's captain, still working his way back from knee surgery that cost him the second half of last season, may eventually have to complete the test once he's physically ready.

One person who won't be so lucky is forward Kevin Fiala, who was not at practice on Friday as he continues to gather proper documentation before coming to the U.S. from Europe. 

Video: Bruce Boudreau reacts after day 1 skate

The test itself is straight forward; players skate the length of the ice down and back twice, finishing with a final sprint to the center red line. This is done three times, with players needing to finish the first trip in 37 seconds and the final two in 40 seconds. 

If players are able finish in those times, they are done. If they are unable to finish in those times, they do it a fourth time. If they are still unable to finish in time, they will go a fifth. 

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he got the test from the Canadian national team and began implementing it when he was coach of the Washington Capitals. Back then, everybody was required to complete five reps and there was no timed element.

Adam Oates, who succeeded Boudreau as the next full time coach of the Caps, instituted the timed portion of the test the following season and Boudreau liked the change, so he began doing it in Anaheim and brought it with him to Minnesota.

Afterward, players have their fingers pricked and their blood tested, which can uncover a slew of information about the kind of shape players are in.

Video: The Skate Test

"We used to do it in the minors but you didn't do the blood test because it sometimes got a little too expensive or to find the help that you needed," Boudreau said. 

The goal of the test is to get players out of their normal comfort zone and to a place where they can perform at that level. 

"We want to be able to play at a level that is comfortable to us but is uncomfortable for other people," Boudreau said. "That's the kind of condition you have to be in."

Every player is different in how they approach the test, but the general consensus was a strong start out of the gate followed by long strides was the best way to finish in time while maintaining enough energy to finish in three tries.

"The quicker you can get into your long strides I think is the most efficient way to do it," said Wild forward Zach Parise, who practiced the test last week in skating sessions at Braemar Arena in Edina.

Tweet from @mnwild: It is Group B���s turn to take on the skating test #mnwild

Wild forward Ryan Donato said he practiced the test four or five times during the summer but even that doesn't prepare one entirely.

Often times, those practices runs come at the beginning of a skating session or with clean ice. This test comes after an hour-long practice with ice that is cleaned but not flooded. 

"It's frowned upon to talk about it because the more you talk about it, the most psyched or nervous you get," Donato said. "But at the end of the day, you're gonna have to do it no matter what and you've just gotta grind through it no matter what."

There certainly appears to be an advantage for players who have completed the test in the past. 

"Probably ... but I still think that anxiety is lingering in your head from practice," Parise said. "I think that makes it harder than it actually is."

Strategy also varies from player to player.

Parise would go to the bench between reps in order to rest his legs. Others remain on the ice and either glide around slowly to keep moving or may simply take a knee on the goal line.

"When it comes to strategy I don't know if you want to shut the elbow pads [in] to make yourself feel lighter or dry off your hair so it's not wet ... I don't know. But you gotta do the little things to get by."

While the ice was being cleaned In the five minutes before the start of the test, former Wild defenseman Nate Prosser was famous for removing the tape from his stick blade, believing that any bit of drag might be enough to slow him down and miss a time.

While the test is usually an easy one for small to average-sized skaters, it can be tougher for some of the bigger players on the ice. 

Despite those challenges, both Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway passed the test in the minimum amount of reps. 

Tweet from @mnwild: Marcus Foligno giving his best advice for the skating test #mnwild

Greenway, in fact, stuck around and voluntarily skated a fourth rep with one teammate who missed the third time by a couple of seconds. 

Parise, Mats Zuccarello and Greg Pateryn did the same thing in an earlier group.

"You never want to see anyone out there struggling with it. That's never fun, we've all been there," Parise said. "I think we were all thinking the same thing: you don't want to leave a guy out there struggling with it. Through everything, we just want to stick together. It's small things, but it's just letting your guys know that everyone is there with him helping him out."

Ultimately, the biggest challenge of the test is more mental than physical. Especially with how today's players train in the offseason, most everyone is in great shape when they come to camp.  

"I try not to build up too much anxiety over it. When guys are talking about it, it's just in one ear and out the other," Foligno said. "I think the biggest thing is, you know you can get through it and everyone has to do it."

Still, the relief after the test is done is real.

Said Foligno: "This is the best I've felt all summer now that the skate test is over." 

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