The life of the professional hockey player has changed somewhat over the years. My Dad’s NHL career spanned from 1974-1988, and over that time, he witnessed a huge shift in how players trained during the off-season. By the middle of his career, the term “training camp” was no longer where you began to work out if you hoped to keep up.
These days players let their bodies rest for as long as need be after the season – usually two-to-three weeks, maybe a month at most – then get back in the gym and start rebuilding the muscle they lost over the course of the last season, and hope to reach new “bigger, faster, stronger” heights.
Still, the routine isn’t that miserable. How long can a sane person really train for in a given day? Most guys get to the gym in the morning, and spend whatever amount of time they see fit – one-to-two hours for most – then head to the rink to skate.
That means you’re done in the early afternoon – often by noon, actually – and have the rest of your day free to hit the links, wakeboard, or do whatever it is that you like to do with your free time (Scott Hannan once told me – right before his game declined, actually – that he doesn’t do leg workouts, he wakeboards, which is “just as good.” While wakeboarding is hard…it isn’t).
But the funny thing is, not every player skates all summer long. For many, many of the best pros, they just train, stay out of the arena, and wait for a certain day to get back on the ice….today.
It’s August 1st – if you live in Kelowna, BC, head over to the Capital News Centre on Gordon today. The Canadian Olympic team will basically be practicing there. Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf and about 20 other NHLers will be getting back into the swing of things.
The summer pro game takes a huge turn today. I started playing in it when I was in junior, because I happened to be dating a girl whose sister dated one of the pro guys (a very fortunate connection). Because I wasn’t all that great and needed to play as much as possible, I played in some version of it from the second it started up in May.
And, throughout the course of the summer, more and more NHLers showed up, to the point where I couldn’t keep up anymore. The first year, there was such an influx of players on August 1st that Dixon Ward went down the bench and picked guys out who weren’t allowed to play (“If I didn’t personally call you to play in this game today, go take your gear off and don’t come back this summer.”)
I didn’t get to play in that game the rest of that summer.
It got better for me as I got older, and the next year I became a regular, but I always knew that come August 1st, shit was about to get real.
As Jeff O’Neill put it on Twitter today:
August 1st. Also known as the day in the summer Mario Lemieux stopped getting fries with his sandwich at the turn.Now no one eats bread.
— Jeff ONeill (@odognine2) August 1, 2012
I love O’Neill’s Twitter feed. So great.
He’s right, but things have changed in other ways since then too. Today is also the day a lot of (I’d wager most of) the guys stop drinking until after training camp.
Hockey players like to party, and do so aggressively in the early summer. Some of those shinny games in June and July leave the rink smelling like a brewery. But if you want to make millions of dollars, there comes a time to tidy things up and take your job seriously.
The summer games up to five ramp up in tempo from here until the NHL season, which for hockey fans means one thing: next season is getting closer. Today’s the day your favourite player put his game face back on.