Pepsi for the Boys
On a bus contemplating what the hell I have gotten myself into. First week of "training camp" is almost complete, and I am already down seven pounds. I am the lightest I have been since my last NHL season in St. Louis. Although, I am not quite sure that "training camp" is the way that I would describe what I have been through for the last six days.
Our bus holds forty-nine people. Twenty-two guys are dressing, but we have thirty-one on the bus. Not quite sure why. We also have a trailer attached to the back of the bus containing our hockey gear, medicine balls, hurdles and agility ladders. Not too sure what is stored underneath the bus either. What I do know is that we are on our way to a city two hours away from our compound to play a team in the VHL.
Wake up is at 8am, followed by a run. Breakfast is at 9am. Two hours of off-ice training commence at 10:30am, and I mean 10:30am - not a second later. On most days, we split into two groups and have an hour of intense weight lifting followed by an hour of plyometrics and sprints. On the rare occasion that we have an "easy" day, we have an hour of intense weight lifting followed by an hour of soccer and handball. These are not leisure or recreational games. You run, and you run hard. Coaches and trainers are there to monitor your heart rate and recovery time through the heart rate monitor/watch sets that we are given upon arrival. Lunch is at 1pm, followed by some "free time" until we head to the rink at 5pm. Now, "free time" is spent in bed resting or sleeping from the previous days assault on our body. Between 1:30pm and 4:30pm the compound is a ghost town; nothing can be heard. We get to the rink at 5:30pm and begin another workout at 5:45pm. Prior to our on-ice training we complete numerous amounts of plyometric, agility and abdominal exercises. We usually have ten minutes to get dressed for on-ice practice at 6:45pm. For two hours, we skate, and skate hard. The tempo is high at all times, and if it is not, we are gathered together to be reminded that the tempo needs to be higher. The constant "beep" of heart rate monitors can be heard all day, even on the ice. The coaches want to know how well we can recover from certain drills. "Bag-skating" as we know it in Canada is as common here as a regular shooting drill back home. The local and non-import players here do no even bat an eye at the training regiment, as they are accustomed to this type of lifestyle. After our two hour on-ice session, we head back outside for more plyometric and abdominal exercises. Finally, we can stretch and eat a meal upstairs ... By this point, we haven't eaten in eight-and-a-half hours. We make the thirty minute trek back to our compound, arriving between 10:45pm-11:15pm. Maybe a few minutes to speak to our family and friends - if the overused internet permits a connection - and then we are off to sleep to begin the process all over again.
There are four other North Americans here with me: Ian "Mac or Intel" MacDonald, Danny "Battsy" Battachio, Mike "Garms" Garman and Bryan "Thrills or AAA" McGregor. Mac is from Edmonton, and I played against him in the CIS National Championship game in Thunder Bay. Just in case he forgot, we won 3-2 in overtime. Thrills is from Niagara Falls and by far and away has the most energy out of the group. The three of us play together on a line, and are counted on to produce a lot of points this year. Battsy is from Sudbury, but lives in Rapid City these days. He is one of the goalies, and ... Well, he is a goalie. That should say enough, and if it doesn't, Battsy is a St. Francis Xavier grad. Garms is an American, but we will not hold that against him. He went to Cornell, and he is constantly picking up common sense and daily knowledge from us Canadian boys and our "real" university educations. He is one of the other goalies here. Good group of imports here that make the time pass much easier. However, we are all battling the relentlessness of this "training camp" and wondering when it will be over.
We finished the tournament in second place. All things considered, I think we played fairly well, and if we would have played the first game like we did the last two, we would have won the tournament. In Belarus, we stayed in a city named Grodno. It housed a miniature Olympic village tribute to the Belarus athletes that have won medals in the Olympic games. Their stadium was top notch, and we were treated pretty decent. Temperature was extremely warm there, and the locals did not seem to smile that much, but maybe that had something to do with the heat. By the end of the tournament, the boys had played four games together and we were starting to feel and play like a real time. Chemistry was clicking with some guys, and roles were being designated. All in all, it was a nice relaxing few days away from the compound in Latvia. However, our training routine did not stop while we were there. Like I said, absolutely nothing like I have been apart of before in my life.
Back to being soldiers this week. That is the term that some of the Russians use to describe us. We leave Latvia this week on a fifteen hour bus ride to Moscow, and then jump on a plane to Astana, Kazakhstan. Next week, the "Kazak Cup" will be played out of two cities in Kazakhstan. Apparently, this tournament is a big deal, especially to the Kazakhstan players and the coach. For the last three weeks, losing has been described, and engrained in our thought process, as unacceptable. There is no other outcome but to win this tournament. This weeks weight training and on-ice regiment have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will be the best conditioned team in the tournament, and throughout the season.
During our time here in Latvia, observation has been a key part to our daily routines. The language barrier generates the need for observational skills for on-ice drills and off-ice weight training. Moreover, during our strenuous workouts we have witnessed children, as young as nine and ten, participating in the same gruelling workouts as us, just with other sporting programs. These kids are training several hours per day for hockey and soccer. When I was their age, I was riding my bike, playing in the park and trying to stay clear of my biological parents. However, I now realize why the "soldiers" of our team do not bat an eye when they are told to train outside for two hours during a torrential downpour - it is engrained in their psyche. This is the way that life is supposed to be: regimented, structured and disciplined. To some, it is utter ridiculousness while to others it screams respect. Regardless of what you think, it is their way of life. I am in their country, and I must respect that. Another aspect that we have been able to observe is the surrounding area, and what we have found has been pretty humourous to us. There is a plethora of miniature statues and characters around the city we live in. I have been lucky enough to snap a few pics of the boys and totally embarrass them in this blog. In a place where everything is taken so serious, we have to find sometime for fun and games. Gotcha! Sorry boys. To date, I have now been to twenty countries with one more on the horizon this week. The magic number is three ... until I pass the number of prisons I was incarcerated in. Until then, this season should be a lot of fun weight training, winning games and sneaking in some pepsi for the boys when the coach is looking the other way.