Canucks endure ‘very tough, very tough’ skating drills as new coaches take charge
Willpower 101: A test of mental as much as physical endurance
New Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella gives direction during the NHL team’s training camp on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 at UBC.
Photograph by: wayne leidenfrost, PNG
VANCOUVER — John Tortorella promised a tough training camp, and Vancouver Canucks players will tell you their new coach is a man of his word.
“It was pretty simple,” said defenceman Dan Hamhuis. “We skated in circles.”
Yes, they did, and without pucks. Round and round they went until there was no air left in their lungs and their legs absolutely burned from the lactic acid buildup. And then Tortorella asked them to skate some more.
Tortorella thinks he can learn a lot about a player who is physically exhausted and asked to push just a little bit harder. He likes to test the limits of his players and that basically was what happened Thursday at UBC.
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Thursday’s session wasn’t just about determining what kind of shape his players are in, but how they react to adversity. Call it Willpower 101
“There is a lot of different things that come into play,” Tortorella said. “It is a conditioning test, it is basically simulating a shift and also some things mentally as far as when you’re tired how you handle yourself and all sorts of things.”
The Canucks knew things were going to change under Tortorella and training camp certainly has. As per usual, camp began with off-ice fitness testing on Wednesday, but this is the first time the first on-ice session has been devoted exclusively to more fitness testing.
That was Tortorella’s idea and one supported by general manager Mike Gillis.
“I was never satisfied with getting on a bike when you are a hockey player to determine your fitness,” Gillis said as he watched from the stands at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
The Canucks were separated into three groups and in the morning each group hit the ice, where four tripods were set up — two on each blue line — to track their times and deliver data to coaches. Players did six three-lap sprints and were encouraged to skate hard right to the end.
Tortorella shouted encouragement to players who needed some and tapped some on the behind with his stick for a job well done.
Each three-lap sprint was meant to simulate an actual hockey shift. But really they were much tougher than a normal shift. The last lap is a killer.
“That’s a leg-burner, that one,” Hamhuis said. “Every time on that third lap you come around the last two corners and you feel the legs burn and it’s tough to stay down in your stride.
“He says it is going to be a hard camp, we were expecting that, so it certainly lived up to the expectation. Skating tests are always tough. I like the idea it is more similar to hockey as opposed to a bike ride or running. But they are not designed to be easy, they are designed to push people and see where your limits are, (testing) your will is a big part of it.”
Tortorella said he would make no snap judgments based on Thursday’s on-ice tests.
“When you are doing this type of stuff some of what makes players look good is just that they are better skaters,” he said. “They are on the ice, some players skate and they are in the ice. The first day was good. It’s really hard to make a judgment … as we go through the week that is when I am really going to find out what guys did their work.
“But I am certainly not going to make a knee-jerk decision if one guy struggles in one skating test.”
Even the Sedin twins, who each year set the standard with their off-ice fitness test results, found Thursday’s drills challenging.
“Very tough, very tough,” said Henrik. “This was a lot tougher than in past years.”
“It makes us push ourselves really hard and it’s going to bring us closer as a group, too,” said Daniel. “We have to stay positive, we have to cheer each other on. It’s going to be good for us, I think.”
Rookie Bo Horvat joked that skating in the same group as the Sedins made it even tougher for him.
“You have got the Sedins trailing you and they are pushing the pace,” a smiling Horvat said. “It’s not always like that back in junior.”
“With the lactic acid buildup in your legs it’s very tough to keep them moving,” added winger Zack Kassian. “That’s the mental side of it, if you keep pushing you are going to get through it. I think more than anything he wants everyone to push mentally. If you think you are tired everyone can push a little bit more. It’s all on the mental side and everyone did a great job of it.”
Tortorella has been doing these kind of on-ice fitness tests for several years. He changed things up later in the day, going to shorter on-ice sprints of 15 to 20 seconds. The three-lap sprints typically take 38 or 40 seconds.
Tortorella said his on-ice tests used to be even more demanding.
“There was one time when we were doing 45 laps, three sets of 15,” he said. “It was basically a mental thing. A couple of my coaches talked me out of it and wanted to go in a different way. We are trying to evolve into what is hockey-specific.”
ICE CHIPS: The Canucks will scrimmage for the first time at 9 a.m. Friday at Rogers Arena … The Sedins have clearly made a good first impression on Tortorella: “I just hope the kids are watching in the camp, just how they carry themselves, with the class that they do have, with the intensity when they need to have it. They fought one another to the bitter end in the run (on Wednesday). I just hope the kids are noticing because that’s very important to watch what these guys have done in the league, where they are in the league and what they are still doing to try and prepare for another season.”
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