Give Me A Break

After A Long NHL Season, Time Is Of The Essence To Rest, Recover And Ramp Up For Another Year
By: 
Jessi Pierce

 

Hockey, at its heart, is a child’s game. It’s a sport whose fundamentals build character, leadership, friendships and, most importantly, it’s fun. 

While most play for the love of the game, those who have reached the pinnacle of the sport in the National Hockey League it becomes so much more.

It’s a job. 

“Your summer is a lot different from even when you were a teenager,” says New York Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller. “This was my first full NHL season, so to come home, see my friends and my family, get a home-cooked meal, those were some of the first things I couldn’t wait to do in the offseason. 

“But now, it’s back to work.” 

Like with any professional sport offseason, players know that they need to strike a balance between kicking back during the summer months, and kicking their offseason workouts into high gear. 

Every players’ offseason looks different. Rookies and veterans, bubble players and top-six forwards, starters and healthy scratches – it all depends on the goals and workload you know you have ahead of yourself in the summer months. Some players are recovering from injuries or surgeries. Others look forward to spending time at the family cabin. And a fortunate few spend the summer traveling the country with Lord Stanley in hand (congrats Colorado Avalanche). 

So while all of those factors like offseason length, age, and skill level may dictate what a player needs to focus on and when, for the most part, you can break down an NHLer’s offseason into three parts.

 

Family Time/Rest/Recovery Time

Eighty-two games in the regular season, plus a potential for up to four rounds of a best-to-seven series and a tireless travel schedule, there’s no question that as soon as the locker room gets cleaned out, it’s time for some R-and-R for all players.

“There needs to be a rest cycle to a player’s schedule,” said Minnesota Wild head athletic trainer John Worley. “We saw how long the Stanley Cup went and with summertime we all become a little less stringent and more flexible, which is welcomed. 

“So I would say absolutely that a rest and recovery component is very important and vital for every player.”

Worley, a Philadelphia native who spent 11 seasons as the athletic trainer with the Flyers before joining the Wild in 2009, said especially after the bumps and bruises naturally given during the grueling NHL schedule, a player who doesn’t rest is only going to hurt himself. 

“You have some young guys, 18, 19, 20, or early 20s who might not need as much time off as a guy in his late 20s,” Worley said. “But to go straight from the season into continued strenuous workouts is not safe, wise, or really often done in the first place.” 

Without a break, players can put themselves in a position to worsen current injuries, or injury themselves in a new way which creates more problems than good including further missed time come the regular season. No one wants to miss the start of training camp come September. 

Carolina defenseman Jake Gardiner knows how hard it can be to sit out with injury. The 32-year-old missed the entire 2021-22 season after having hip and back surgeries. He has not played a game since May 10, 2021, but was cleared to return to play in early June. 

“It was hard,” said Gardiner, who has spent 10 seasons in the NHL. “I’ve worked my butt off and done countless treatments and rehabs and exercises to be ready to get back.”

For New York Islanders center Brock Nelson, the offseason brings some long-awaited family time. 

“Now we’re busy with kids,” said the 30-year-old, who has a son, Beckett, and daughter Addy. “I try to play some golf and tennis. Enjoy the summer with family, be outside, especially here in Minnesota and chase the little ones around. It goes fast, so trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”

“I think it is super important to take some time away. Spend some time with friends and family. At the same time, keep working at what your goals are and what you’re going to do. But you don’t want to burn out. You don’t want that hunger inside to be gone. So make it a fun environment as possible. Some days it’s not as fun, some days you’re not as motivated, and some days it’s monotonous, but if you make it as fun as possible and as enjoyable as possible to keep that fire alive.” 

Matt Harder, Minnesota Wild strength and conditioning coach

 

 

 

 

Strength and Conditioning

It’s not all fun and games. As summer hits its stride players look to maintain a focus on off-ice strength and conditioning regimens. A few hours at the weight room, with strength coaches or trainers, and then cardio in various forms.

“I think a lot of stretching, mobility and slowly ramp back up,” said Nelson, who had 37 goals and 59 assists last season. “Today I was on the hills and then I’ll go to the turf in August. Just trying to stay active.

“It’s a lot more mobility-based for me. I get a lot of guys trending that way. Early on it’s more heavy lifting. Game’s getting faster so as long as you work on what you need to keep up, you’ll be OK.” 

Matt Harder, strength and conditioning coach for the Wild, recommends that players ease into workouts and focus on their weaknesses more than strengths in their offseason calisthenics – preferably ones that they can be consistent with. 

“Obviously these guys made it to the NHL, so we know what their strengths are,” Harder said. “So we want to make sure we identify the weaknesses that we want to correct before the next season.” 

Harder said those weaknesses, just like every strength, varies from player to player. A player in their early 20s will likely need to focus on building body mass. Others might need to work on their speed and acceleration.

Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei said he’s always maintained a good balance of weight lifting and cardio on the side. 

“It’s never the most fun workouts, especially in the summer,” joked the 28-year-old, “but you can certainly tell a difference between those that do it and those that don’t.” 

Back On The Ice

For most players, once the off-ice work is completed, the on-ice element comes into play.

“I’m just now getting back on the ice [at the end of July],” said Miller, who averaged nearly 25 minutes per game with the Rangers last season. “For me it was about maintenance and getting ready, but again, with it being my first full season in the NHL, I wanted to make sure I got the proper rest in to physically and mentally reset. It’s a long season, a lot of games and practices, too. So I’m focused on making sure I’m doing what I need to in the offseason to make it during the season.” 

Los Angeles Kings forward Blake Lizotte on the other hand was on the ice once or twice a week beginning in June. 

“After the 4th of July it moves to three or four times, and then in August it’s full go,” he said. “The early on-ice is maintaining your skillset, but now it’s time to gear up and dial in.”

All in a summer day’s work. 

 

Issue: 
2022-08

Poll

What's Your Favorite Thing About The Hockey Season?
Hanging out with all of my friends.
13%
Dangle, snipe, celly!
16%
Getting a great workout in.
5%
All of the the above!
66%
Total votes: 583