By Suzanne Grove
Every hockey season must come to an end. For some players this occurs far too early in the spring, ending in disappointment and a lot of reflection. For others, the season ends in the summer after a hard-fought, deep run in the playoffs and perhaps a championship. Yet, no matter when a player cleans out his stall and takes his last shift, the weeks following the final game of the season can be difficult. It’s often a time to say goodbye to teammates, game-day routines, and a city they’ve called home for most of the past year.
But, hockey players are a dedicated and passionate bunch, always thinking about ways to improve their game and working to become faster, stronger, and more skilled. After a few weeks of much-needed relaxation and maybe a few rounds on the golf course, players are once again ready to devote their time to the game they love. Most players have specific off-season workout and training regimens.
Pittsburgh Penguin Kris Letang heads home to train 6 days a week at a facility in Montréal where he focuses on improving his aerobic endurance and strength. Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith, who led the NHL in average ice time for the 2010-2011 season, does a series of demanding lower body workouts in Calgary. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux has spent his past six off-seasons in Ottawa training with a fitness specialist who helps Giroux not only become faster and better conditioned through a specialized circuit of workouts, but also teaches him about nutrition and how to eat properly to maximize the effectiveness of his training sessions.
Junior hockey players are no different. The extremely competitive and physical style of play prevalent throughout junior hockey demands a similar off-season commitment. This is especially true for prospective Tomahawks players who have been working hard this summer in hopes of earning an invitation to the team’s main tryout camp, which will take place August 9-12 at Planet Ice in Johnstown. While conducting three tryout camps in Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and New Jersey, Head Coach Jason Spence and Assistant Coach Mike Letizia were impressed with the caliber of talent, making their task of selecting players for the main tryout camp difficult. In a few weeks, the best players from each initial camp will compete for a permanent spot on the Tomahawks roster for the team’s inaugural season in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). The invitees’ passion for the game and dedication to proving themselves as top-notch hockey players has translated into tough workouts both off and on the ice.
Several of these young men spoke about their excitement for the camp and all of their preparations. Casey Nelson, a defenceman who spent his previous two seasons with the former Alaska Avalanche of the NAHL, takes his off-season training seriously.
“I work to make sure I come into camp in-shape and conditioned,” he said. “I like to be on the ice every day the week before camp begins.”
Nelson might find inspiration in Letang’s off-season training; as a defenceman, Nelson tries to model himself after Letang, a creative offensive defenseman who is skilled at moving the puck.
A native of Wisconsin, Nelson looks forward to seeing Johnstown and meeting other players, saying, “One of the things I love about hockey is that everyone comes together both on and off the ice. We’re all in it for the love of the game.”
Mitch Kontny, another player who calls Wisconsin home, also looks forward to possibly being part of a new team: “I like creating a close knit group that competes together.”
While every player attempts to log as many hours as possible on the ice during the summer, center Evan Hesse from Minnesota has focused on putting on muscle and lifting weights prior to tryout camp.
“Junior hockey is a great experience because we get to see what it’s like to be on our own, and we get to travel a lot, which is nice,” he said.
Spence and Letizia have high expectations for their future players. The main tryout camp will serve as another opportunity for both coaches to learn more about the players’ skills and personalities. The four-day process will ultimately help determine which players will step onto the ice in September with the Tomahawks logo proudly displayed on their chests. All of the prospects are determined to leave a positive impression on the Tomahawks staff. But, they also simply look forward to playing the sport that means so much to them.
Hesse may have said it perfectly: When asked what he’s looking forward to the most, he responded, “What isn’t there to love about hockey?