There’s a progression to off-season training (that follows some time away from the game) in every sport. In hockey, that means rebuilding what you’ve lost from the previous season, aiming for heavier weights and more reps, and shifting from raw power to quickness towards the end of summer. Being monsterously strong is a neat concept, but not when it makes you a slug.
Part of the graduation from power to quickness involves a crazy concept: skating with hockey skates on ice.
I’ve never mentioned this in a blog post before, but I used to play hockey. And with the wealth of knowledge I gained over that time, I can bring you this insight: skating on ice is an important skill for hockey players. Read on for more.
In all seriousness, what I didn’t really get about great NHL players and the way they train is their general disdain for incorporating skating into their summer regimens. I basically skated year round, using the logic that “to be a good hockey player, I should work on my hockey game.” They did not agree with my thinking on this.
Living in Kelowna, you would see the progression of the summer hockey game slowly move from slugs to stars (May to September), and realize that there’s a direct correlation between success in hockey and how early guys would skate, I assume because raw talent is raw talent and the best could afford to take a break.
At the start of the summer it would be me and four-to-six other guys playing half-ice three-on-three. We were fringe pros and European players and desperate goalies. The game would slowly grow until there were subs, then we were 5-on-5, then we were a full-on, full-ice hockey game.
By June you’d see some lesser pros get in the mix. In July, your fringe NHLers and AHLers would start trickling in. And in August – on August 1st, as in today, specifically – all the best players in the world hit the ice. If you’re going to pick an arbitrary day to get back at ‘er, two months before opening night is as good as any.
There are exceptions to this of course; some guys at the highest level just love to play too. But most of them figure they skate so often over so many months of the season (often twice a day between morning skate and games) that if there’s other ways to stay fit and get better, they’d take them. They need the mental break, where I felt I couldn’t afford to take one.
So today, the Capital News Center in Kelowna will be riddled with great NHL pros playing terribly. I mean, the hockey is just awful. Dany Heatley is notorious for toe-picking once or twice on his first day back on the ice.
On August 1st the ice surface there is so packed with guys that they occasionally ask the youngest, “least important” members to beat it (it happened once to me when I was in junior). I know that’s seriously harsh, but they get a deal on the ice (the rich get richer) thanks to who the big names are, so the small fish are the first to fry.
I figured I’d share a couple notes from summer hockey in Kelowna:
Dany Heatley, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Scott Hartnell, Scotty Upshall, Ryan Getzlaf, Josh Gorges and way, way more show up to play. They used to give me the puck like I was a Make-A-Wish kid everyone wanted to see score. You can do it, little guy! I did not care for this.
Heatley makes poor decisions
I mentioned the toe-picks. He’s also unafraid to take slapbombs through ankles (a big no-no among dudes just trying to get in shape in a game that doesn’t actually matter), and he’s not afraid to go high-and-hard on the random fill-in teen goalie who’s less effective than a Shooter Tutor. This is also a no-no.
They call Duncan Keith “Bambi” there
He kind of bounds about when he skates. It’s ridiculously effective, whatever it is.
Games to five, then switch goalies. Goalies are KEY. If you get one pro, and one fill-in, the pro-less side has zero hope. They play “possession” ala basketball too. You score, the other team “ices” the puck down to your end, and away you go again.
Most drop-in and rec hockey consists of guys trying to maximize their ice time, because they paid to play. Somehow they don’t realize that if everyone just changes quick, you get the same ice, plus you’re fresh. These guys get that.
Mitch Fritz is a goal-scoring machine
Remember him? 6’8″ tough guy in the show for awhile. You don’t realize how skilled some of the lesser names are until you see a no-contact shinny game. Blake Comeau might have the best hands of anyone out there.
You don’t want to be the guy wearing your team colours head-to-toe as in “CHECK OUT WHERE I PLAY I’M IN THE NHL.” It’s kinda bad form. You can’t really hide it with NHL guys who have all their team gear with them, but most guys flip their jersey inside out anyway. It’s a weird, sort of respect thing, like there’s no status during the game, whether you’re flipping a WHL or NHL jersey inside-out. Part of hockey’s pseudo-modest culture, maybe.
Pass before shooting
Goalies hate playing in this game, because guys pass up clean looks to attempt back-door tap-ins all day. You get yelled at for that in-season, so it’s fun to try to be the Harlem Globetrotters in the summer.
Games like this aren’t just happening in Kelowna, they’re happening all over the world.
August 1st has kind of become the unofficial start of hockey season. The fans won’t see the guys for awhile, but as of today, the real work starts for players.