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Spring Hockey – Friend or Foe?

The hockey season is a gruelling schedule (early morning practices, road games, playing keep up with school, nagging injuries, etc.). On top of all of that, you add in a non-natural movement pattern like skating, and essentially wearing a foot cast (skating boot) for 8 months, which severely limits ankle mobility – more specifically dorsiflexion – which is essential for any squatting or running pattern.

Hockey athletes need to spend time off-ice in the off-season, first focusing on regaining healthy body alignment. As the off-season progresses, players go from recovery training to building strength, then turning that strength into power and speed. By mid-end of August, it is about conditioning and power endurance. I can tell you from experience that strength, power, speed, first step quickness, and foot speed are not built on the ice, they are built in the gym.

I will take a quote from Dan Ninkovich (strength coach of John Tavares and Sam Gagner) “Go take a look at how your hockey athlete is walking/running …they’re all walking/running like ducks, because their IT band/glute medius junction is fused. You need to recover from that, emaciated bodies need recovery time”.

When Phil Kessel told reporters a year ago that he did not skate much in the summer, it was not a sign of lethargy. It was reality. Let’s look at the local talent Nanaimo has put forward lately i.e. Patrick Bajkov, Chase Lang, Carter Turnbull, Dylan Coghlan, to name a few. I can tell you first hand that spring on ice hockey does not take the priority in their off-season. The proof is in the pudding; I challenge you to do your own research, ask respectable coaches, and do your homework.

I will use another quote taken from Peter Twist (Masters Degree in Coaching & NHL Strength Coach – 11years). “Many young players choose to go from the regular season and right into spring hockey for another 2 to 4 months. The problem with this is that players do not get the rest and recovery they need, they forgo the large window of opportunity for off-ice development and they can lose the motivation to play as they end up playing year-round and burn out often occurs.”

I am not against spring hockey; I find it awesome to see young athletes motivated to go to the rink and compete. However, to hear that spring hockey is eating up 3-4 days/week and becoming the forefront of focus in the supposedly ‘off-season’ I can’t help but feel parents are being mislead.

The purpose of this blog post is not to get everyone in the gym, performing our spring training, but rather to appreciate the physiological needs of rest and recovery from the game, and to perhaps look at engaging in some other form of exercise, whether that’s basketball (great for foot speed and lower body power), baseball (great for shooting power and reactivity), or getting in to the gym to take care of their body.

Here is the breakdown of Prime’s off-season programs. As you can see the whole off-season is a continuum, each phase or stage that precedes the next is essential for athlete development. Therefore, it is important to follow the whole progression of the off-season to ensure an athlete does not miss an important phase, even if you can only make time for 2x/wk. For the athletes that are out of town and can only attend the summer program, this highlights the importance of finding someone to work with in the mean time, some one with experience and who understands the off-season hockey progression.

SPRING

Transition phase (2-4 weeks’ de-load) – End of March – April 18
*Fun sports
*Yoga
*Gymnastics

Preparation (off-ice development) Phase 1 (April 18-May 13 – 4weeks):
*Base training
*Mobility
*Corrective exercise
*Deceleration training
*Running mechanics
This phase is geared towards creating a healthy base free of imbalances/asymmetries – essential

Phase 2 (May 16-June 10)
*Hypertrophy training (adding cross section area of muscle cells– ‘bulking’) – slow tempo lifts
*Progression into full body non specific strength
*Proper acceleration Multi-direction mechanics
This phase is geared towards increasing muscle cell size and adding lean muscle mass

Phase 3 (June 13-June 24)
*Progressing from specific strength into sport specific
*Introduction to power lifting techniques and movements
*Speed training
This phase is geared towards increasing lean muscle mass and strength

SUMMER CAMP + on ice- reintroduced -focusing on power skating and conditioning
*off-ice development focus shifts away from ‘weight gain’ and strength – into power endurance and conditioning*
*we want to transition our athletes from a slower tempo (hypertrophy) into powerful athletes, allowing them to be 10-15lbs heavier (from spring training) all the while being quicker and faster.

Phase 4 (June 27-July 22) *progression of phase 3*
* Power training (fast tempo lifts)
*Re-activity Energy system development : i.e. A-latic power and capacity

Phase 5 (July 25-Aug 26)
*Power endurance
*Sport specific energy system development (repeat sprint)
​*COMPETITION