I remember when pro hockey players showed up for training camp and boasted about how much beer they drank in the offseason. They’d compare their round Buddha-bellies in the locker room and lament that fun time was over. Time for camp.
Back then, players had a couple weeks to skate their way back into shape before the regular season started.
Those pro hockey players from yesteryear would not recognize the physical specimens jammed into today’s NHL training camps. The Arizona Coyotes’ tryout roster reveals size, strength, and speed unknown to the game just a few short years ago. And that’s the Day 1 squad — the subsequent trimming, cutting, and slicing of the roster will reveal the true hockey beasts among beasts.
There were 14 Tucson Roadrunners among the hopefuls at the beginning of the parent club’s NHL camp a few weeks ago. In Monday’s NHL preseason game at Tucson Arena, and in the few days ahead, we’ll find out how many of them will return for the AHL season.
Whether in the NHL or AHL, it is certain that the requirements of the modern game will have them already in prime physical shape.
Today’s hockey pro adheres to a sophisticated training regimen. Buddha-bellies are a rare sighting in a major league locker room.
“Today for players it’s yoga, Pilates, and good diets,” new Roadrunners coach Mike Van Ryn said. “The physical condition of players today are so much better than even five, six, seven years ago.”
The offseason for hockey is now so short that it hardly exists at all.
There are minicamps. Summer games. Development gurus. Endless hours on a treadmill, or running up stairs, or executing a personal training program. Players come to training camp ready to perform — now.
That also means that coaches now have a much better grip on who will make an opening day roster. Oh, there will always be a few good surprises from younger players and bad surprises from returning veterans. But for the most part there are only a few roster spots up for grab as a major league team like the NHL Coyotes breaks camp and starts their preseason games.
Those Roadrunners skating with the Coyotes all want those few open spots. Van Ryn was one of the coaches in the Coyotes’ camp, running drills and watching his Roadrunners work.
“We want them all to believe they will make the big team’s roster,” he said. “Anything can happen in camp. Sometimes the light clicks on and they play over their heads. I’ve seen it happen.”
There have been other NHL preseason games at the Tucson Arena, but they were a generation ago and the results didn’t alter the future of a Tucson hockey team.
Monday’s contest between the Coyotes and Ducks is mostly meaningless in a competitive sense, unless you are one of those Roadrunners fighting to make that opening-day NHL roster.
Some of these Roadrunner prospects probably understand they are not ready yet, and take their inevitable Tucson assignment as a positive step in their development. The young (and talented) Tucson goaltenders Adin Hill and Marek Langhamer fit well into that category. They are a good bet to get to the NHL and sticking there, eventually.
AHL All-Star defenseman Kyle Wood and dynamic forward Christian Fischer most likely need additional seasoning in the AHL. Tucson is good for them.
Then there are players who already have NHL seasons under their belts and who believe they belong in Glendale instead of Tucson. If any of those kinds of guys are sent south, it’ll be new Ryn’s job to integrate them back into the Roadrunners.
This became an issue in the Roadrunners’ locker room last year, after youngster Brendan Perlini was called up to Glendale following a blazing start in Tucson.
Surely, some Roadrunners veterans thought out loud, we should get the NHL call before some kid does.
“You can sulk and play poorly or you can prove people wrong,” Van Ryn said about those yearning to crack the Coyotes lineup. “You need to have the attitude that you’ll be the hardest worker on the team. You need a good attitude.”
Watch out, Ducks. The Tucson Coyotes — I mean the Arizona Roadrunners, um, never mind — will be motivated and mixing it up on Monday night.
For major league hockey prospects, there is no preseason. Their time is now.