Bobcats start ‘16-17 plans with spring, summer programs
The hockey offseason may signal an end to games and tournaments, but for many serious youth hockey programs, it doesn’t mean that players forget about the sport altogether.
For the Arizona Bobcats, the spring and summer are times to develop new skills, build strength and flexibility, and prepare for the season ahead so players can be at their absolute best on the ice from September through March or April.
“When I was a kid in Canada in the late 1990s, once the summer came, you put your hockey bag away and played baseball or soccer until training camp came around in late August,” said Brent Gough, the head coach of the Bobcats’ 18U teams. “Offseason workouts weren’t really emphasized. Nowadays, kids are expected to come into camp in shape and having taken care of themselves all summer so you can work on more systematic stuff with your team.”
Gough emphasized that there is a fine line to finding the balance between being prepared for the season and overdoing it. He wants players to come back refreshed and excited to get back into hockey, but also realizes that the right amount and right type of training during the offseason can make a big difference in players improving from year to year.
Because of that, he and Bobcats director of hockey Ron Filion take extra efforts to prepare players in the offseason, and ask the same of some of their other coaches.
Pat Conacher heads up the goalie training for the Bobcats. He approaches offseason training by looking at the pillars of building a good foundation – individual lessons, scrimmages and game-like situations and physical training to develop strength and flexibility.
“Spring is an important time to stay on the ice and continue with lessons, as tryouts are around April and May,” Conacher said. “We discuss situational play and match that with endless repetition, to build the muscle memory and make that save routine during games. Like with anything, repetition is the most important aspect of any training.”
He believes scrimmaging and putting his goalies in other situations that mimic game action is important so they can learn to perform without the pressure they’d feel in a regular-season game. That builds confidence and leads to them improving their overall play. Conacher emphasizes flexibility for all goalies to reduce the chances of injury, and works on strength training with his older players.
“This helps holding posts positions as well as the ability to explode and get around the crease on their feet and knees,” Conacher said. “For younger goalies, flexibility is most important, and as they get older, foot speed and hand-eye training become important, followed by strength training.”
Michael Knight directs the dryland training for the Bobcats. He’s a veteran strength and conditioning coach who has worked with the likes of Steve Yzerman, Mike Modano and countless other NHL players. (Knight is pictured with Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader.)
“There are so many programs out there that are designed just to keep the kids busy,” Knight said. “But it takes a lot of thought and effort to put together programs specialized for kids ages 10-13 and 14-18 and then to work with those kids to get the most out of them.”
He said his program emphasizes flexibility and focuses on specific movements in the weight room to build strength using mostly Russian kettlebells, medicine balls and other tools to develop basic strength for players ages 8-13. For older players, the focus shifts to a structured system using the most powerful tools – barbells and kettlebells. Knight also focuses on nutrition, to make sure that kids have good food in their bodies to fuel their workouts and time on the ice.
The Bobcats’ main goal is to use the spring and summer months effectively to help their players improve, and they feel they’ve developed a program to do just that.
“There’s so much stuff that you can do off the ice to make yourself better,” Gough said.
— Greg Ball