The off-season does not mean months of holidays and partying for NHL players. The NHL is where the elite hockey players carve out a living. Whilst it takes years of sacrifice and dedication to reach the elite, it requires continued hard work in order to remain as an elite level ice hockey player. The level of competition in the NHL is sky-high. Take your eyes off the prize and you will quickly find yourself in the B team with hungrier, sharper players taking your spot. The legends of the game will tell you that dedication and sacrifice is key to becoming and establishing yourself as an elite professional ice hockey player.
Aaron Ekblad and Connor Carrick talk us through the constant challenges and workloads they go through during the off-season to stay ahead of their competition and improve their skills.
Some of the best goal-scorers in the world know that training is fundamental to being a successful hockey player. Although his position is defenceman, Canadian NHL all-star Aaron Ekblad states that during the off-season, he primarily focuses on shooting pucks. He aims for precision shooting; pulling, shooting and changing angles in order to create deception against other players on the ice.
On February 3, 2018, Ekblad became only the 15th defensemen in NHL history to reach double-digits in goals in each of their first four seasons. Ekblad’s dedication to this side of his game in his own time after practice sessions enabled him to achieve this success.
Being able to deceive your opponent through changing angles moments before shooting is a key aspect of what makes a world-class goal scorer. Ekblad states that the key to improving your shot is simply through repetition and continually challenging yourself to create a quicker shot. Ekblad himself likes to focus on pushing out first, opening the toe and then closing it to create deception.
Wear the same attire when training as you would for matches
Being able to use the same sticks and skates during training as you would during a match is an important factor when keeping sharp during the off-season. Training on skates adds an extra four inches or so to your height compared to training in a pair of trainers. It is also recommended that hockey players train on a synthetic that is extremely close to the way ice feels under your skates. Ekblad has his own synthetic training area which he calls his ‘safe space’.
“Working on the skills that are important to becoming a better player – it is about gaining an extra edge on your opponents. Training all day and working on the skills that are going to make you a better player,” states Ekblad.
Ekblad practiced 100 backhand shots at home one night after practice and the next match he ended up scoring from the exact shot he practiced. The tools are there but it is up to the player to use them. Ekblad states:
“Teddy Richards who was our head equipment trainer gave me 100-150 pucks to take home with me and I would just shoot one set of them and after that I would probably pull back another 50 pucks and I’ll use the training props that I have.
“The passing stick tripod – I would try to pull and shoot, push and shoot, catch a pass and shoot just all different things. I think it’s extremely important to challenge yourself and make things more difficult for yourself; if you’re always doing that easy thing you might get better at it but creating that muscle memory and being able to do things without thinking about it, that’s what hockey is all about.
“You have to be able to challenge yourself so when you come up against an opponent and you need to put your stick where you’re able to pull the puck around him or over him or through him, that’s where all the practice helps.”
Consistency and Sacrifice
NHL defenceman Connor Carrick has come to realize that he is in an extremely privileged position and has made efforts in his personal life to be grateful for what he has; something that is often difficult when you work in a high-pressure job. Speaking to his YouTube audience, Carrick said:
“When I train, I am trying to be as explosive as possible, as stable as possible and as mobile as possible. The idea is that athleticism will then be able to transfer to the ice. I think that training for athleticism transfers better to strength than training for strength transfers better to athleticism.
“You eat your whole life, but I view eating as a habit that just happens to be beneficial for my career. 99% of my diet consists of organic, grass-fed sustainably raised or wild-caught fish and meat and then vegetables. I eat a lower carbohydrate diet; I tend to gain weight on it and do not need it as fuel. I miss eating pasta and pizza, but I prefer to feel this way and be able to show up for both my career and for others with the mental clarity and energy that I have every day.
“It is a privilege to play in the best league in the world and hockey is a sport that is filled with sacrifice at every level. I have countless friends and family to thank starting with my Mom and Dad who sacrificed so much time, effort and money to put me in a position where I can provide for my family by playing a game I love and a career that is so rewarding. I do take seriously every day the opportunity to try to make good on all the sacrifices people have made on my behalf.”
In the summer of 2019, Carrick re-signed with the New Jersey Devils to a two-year, $3 million contract extension. Consistency and sacrifice remain a part of Carrick’s life.
Hard work creates rewards and deserves rewards
NHL players will take the off-season to also recharge their batteries. Although hard work is fundamental to an NHL player’s success, every human being needs rest and downtime too. Hockey players often enjoy playing poker and gambling on the team coach, for example.
Many NHL players will still spend some of their downtime off-season relaxing with friends and going on holidays with their families. We know of players who enjoy spending time playing at the Canadian online casino PlayFrank, as long as players have a healthy mix of work and pleasure that creates a healthy work/life balance, then rewards are likely to follow.
Professional hockey requires a huge amount of dedication. Regardless of the amount of talent a player has, if he does not dedicate his life to the sport, the success will not follow. As the old saying goes: Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard.