Blue Jackets ready to rumble after summer of prep
One point. Last season, only one point separated the Columbus Blue Jackets from the playoffs and the end of their season—their destiny ultimately decided by other teams’ performances on the final night of regular season games.
This season, the Blue Jackets intend to control their own fate. Every night, every game, and every point until the playoffs, every Blue Jacket will put his best skate on the ice—and it all started in May of this off-season.
“It’s all through the hard work we do in the off-season,” said Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. “Everyone heard about our run last season; we need to be ready.”
That off-season work began with CBJ Strength and Conditioning Coach, Kevin Collins. From the moment last season ended, Jackets players started to work with Collins to prep for 2013-14. Barring injury, players took just a few weeks off before returning to a training program Collins designed for each player based on their goals and the goals of the Jackets’ coaching staff.
“We look at each player’s history, their age, their body composition and what adjustments might need to be made based on last season,” explained Collins. “We’re in constant communication with management and coaches to build a plan that best benefits each player.”
Whether players stayed in Columbus, or ventured to their hometowns or other destinations, Collins remained in touch with them to track each player’s progress. Tracking included a web-based system that recorded each individual work out and provided players with videos outlining every exercise.
“Every players’ program is pulled up when they log in. It tells them what they need to do and gives them a video all the way from their warm-up through the conditioning exercises,” said Collins.
Collins said he looks to balance growth in the areas of strength, speed and agility. The unique demands of hockey players include the need to focus on strengthening muscle groups such as hip flexors, groin muscles and glutes, and refining basic hockey skills, like skating.
“These guys are doing conditioning exercises four times a week that are high intensity after having completed a one and a half hour lifting session,” said Collins. “We can’t overload their system, but it is amazing how their bodies adapt and grow.”
In his four years with the Blue Jackets, Collins has seen the advantage to an increased focus on strength and conditioning from both the organization and the National Hockey League.
The most recent NHL CBA requires a standard set of lifting and exercise equipment for visiting teams in every arena and newly drafted players are coming into the league already understanding the importance of off-ice conditioning.
“It’s more and more prevalent that players are working on their strength early in their career, and when you get a player coming right from Juniors into your system, it becomes the only system they know,” said Collins.
Some players chose to remain in Columbus through the summer to work with Collins directly, including forward Jared Boll and defenseman Cody Goloubef. Collins believes this speaks to both players’ mental toughness and commitment to improve.
“It was a bit different with surgery and rehab this year, but Kevin keeps track of what you’re doing and makes it fun,” Boll said.
Goloubef was able to reach his goal of surpassing last year’s strength and conditioning tests and getting to an improved level of play.
“I think when you’re under the eye of Kevin you get the ins and outs of the program. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s fun,” Goloubef said. “Now the hard stuff is behind us and it’s time to have fun.”
With the season start nearing, Collins is buoyed by the first round of physical tests and will continue to work with players, including the area of nutritional guidance. He advises on in-season meals and providing snacks to the team in the locker room—he even talks with flight attendants on the team airplane.
“Collins has done an excellent job with our group,” Kekalainen said. “What we’ve seen from the tests—the players have done their work. They’ve showed up in good shape and they’ve progressed. That’s what we expect.”
Well, that, and winning, of course. The Columbus Blue Jackets home opener against the Calgary Flames is Oct. 4. For more information or to buy tickets, visit bluejackets.nhl.com.