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The Next Wave: NHL Combine and Development Camp

Even though it feels like the hockey season just ended and there is a long break until the next season is under way for Jets fans, I can assure you that behind the scenes the hockey machine keeps rolling. The off season is a busy time for us and revolves around three main events: the NHL Combine, the NHL Draft and Development Camp. This year, I had the privilege of being directly involved with two of the three.

For as many great hockey players as there already are in the world it is sometimes hard to imagine that there is a next wave of them every year pushing to make that step to the next level. I had the great opportunity of attending the 2018 NHL Combine recently in Buffalo. It was a great experience to watch all the tests being performed first hand, especially since we have helped many players prepare for the combine themselves in the past.

Physiological testing has become a pretty big part of sports. Almost all sports now at different ages and levels have testing as part of their evaluation process. Does scoring the best on a test guarantee you will be the best player? Absolutely not, there are a multitude of different attributes that make great players in any sport, their strength and conditioning is just one. Physiological scores are one area of interest however as it is one that a player has complete control over. This measure can also get a sense of an athlete’s work ethic, desire, commitment, and mental toughness. My job at the combine was to help evaluate potential draft picks for this year’s draft in Dallas. Besides the obvious, how well they scored on tests, we were looking for other things as well such as preparedness, engagement, body language, and how well they move in all different aspects.

After the NHL Combine came the draft where the players were selected by the Winnipeg Jets and then the new recruits were added to the Development Camp roster for the week at Bell MTS Iceplex and Focus Fitness. The roster of players that makes up Development Camp is a combination of draft picks and free agent signings over the recent years and current players from our AHL organization, the Manitoba Moose. At Development Camp we put the players through another battery of tests, this time both off and on ice. These tests are chosen by our strength and conditioning team and coaching staff based on attributes and physical skill sets that the organization feels will help develop quality hockey players. The past week was a combination of on and off ice practices, work out sessions and team building activities all designed to evaluate the players and even more importantly to introduce them to the culture of our organization. Excellence is a habit so we want all the players learning how things are done the True North way. The group of athletes at camp this year were great to work with and I look forward to helping them continuing to develop so they can play important roles in our organization.


Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen, Focus Fitness Manager & Head Strength Coach

Mobility for Hockey

The number one tool you have in hockey, or any sport for that matter, is your own body.

If you can move more efficiently and effectively than your opponent, then you will consistently put yourself in a better position to be successful. You do this multiple times over the course of a game or competition and chances are you will have a favourable result at the end.

In order to move our body well we want to be strong, have good body composition and have great mobility. We use the term mobility over flexibility as the latter usually solely involves stretching. Mobility is a much more global approach which includes soft tissue work, stretching, and activation exercises to ensure joints move properly.

Having good mobility means that you can move through a full range of motion, restriction free. Having proper mobility allows for increased performance. Basic fundamental hockey skills like shooting and skating are dependent on you having the proper mobility I order to perform them.

If your skating stride is short due to tight hips and you can’t access full extension in your drive phase, you will not generate as much force as you potentially can. In other words, without proper mobility you are leaving stuff on the table.

Mobility is also important for proper transition between on-ice and off-ice training. As an example: Players experiencing a decrease in ankle mobility during the season as they are always in fixed ankle position (hockey skate). When this player enters the gym, whether it be for in-season or off-season training and attempts to perform power or speed exercises (sprints and jumps), which place a large amount of stress on the ankle they are no longer in a safe position as they lack the proper amount of mobility or movement at the joint.

At this point injuries are at a higher risk of occurring, and as an athlete staying healthy is always the No. 1 priority.

On the topic of injury, proper mobility also helps decrease the chance of injury during competition, especially with a contact sport like hockey where your body can be forced into compromised positions. The four main parts of the body — in which we always want to make sure we have adequate mobility — are the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders. Even though, as mentioned before, the hockey skate limits ankle flexion and extension there still is some in our skating stride. Having proper mobility at this joint help you get lower in your skating stride.

Hip extension is what propels the skating stride. Having proper hip mobility will ensure that we have a complete full skating stride that puts you in the best position to generate power.

The thoracic spine is the name for the area of the spine which runs from the mid to upper back. Making sure we have great mobility in both our extension and rotation will benefit you in keeping your chest up while you skate and with developing a harder shot.

The shoulders are one of the most injured joints in contact sports. Making sure we have a strong, stable, mobile shoulder will help reduce injury through contact and also help with skills like stick handling and shooting.

There are many moving parts that are included in a successful hockey training program. Make sure that mobility is one of them and you will reap the benefits of increasing performance and reducing injury both on and off the ice.

Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen, Focus Fitness Manager & Head Strength Coach

Originally published in Game On Magazine

When is the Right Time?

Off ice training is more popular than it has ever been, and for good reason. It can have a significant positive impact on your hockey game.

But when is the right time to start?

I often get asked by parents, “What is the correct age to start lifting weights?” or “What are the ideal workouts my kid’s off season?” It seems like every time you turn around another self-proclaimed expert is advising something or there is always a guy “who knows a guy” who is spreading some self-serving information that will fill his next camp. It can be tough to navigate and find the information that you need, so here are some tips and information that will help give parents some direction and dispel the rumours and misinformation.

There is NO magic age as to when athletes are ready to work out. All kids develop at their own pace. Because of this, we have both an athlete’s chronological age (actual age) and his/her training age. The training age is determined by the athlete’s experience in the gym and playing sports.

For example, we have two clients come into the gym. Client No. 1 is 14-years-old and has been playing sports since he was five and had two previous years of experience in a gym training with his team during the season. Client No. 2 is 19 and has very limited experience with sports and has never been in a gym. You can see that despite the fact client No. 2 is technically older, he would not be ready to lift weights yet. He would have to start at bodyweight progressions and work his way up while client No. 1 might be able to externally load some exercises with weight despite being, chronologically, five years younger.

Speaking of weight, there is also a concern regarding when young athletes should start lifting. Rumours about having to wait until bones are finished growing are pretty common. Again, the age at which an athlete starts weight training is linked to his/her training age. There are bones in the human body such as the scapulae (shoulder blade) and collar bone that are not done developing until your early 20s. You are not going to have athletes wait until they are 25-years-old before they start lifting weights.

As long as the athlete is coached and has progressed properly through the fundamentals then risk of injury is very slim. Truth is, the initial loads for athletes are probably the same or even lighter than other things they already carry. The young athlete performing a perfect squat with a 20-pound weight while he is aware of his form and technique, poses less risk for injury than that same athlete slinging his 30-pound hockey bag over his shoulder and walking with no attention to form or technique.

Another common question I hear all the time is, “What is the best thing for my kid to be doing in the off season?” For young athletes (ages 7-12) my answer might surprise you. The best thing to do is go play another sport.

These are prime years for the development of many athletic attributes that will form a youngster’s athletic foundation. Hand-eye co-ordination, re-action time, balance, proprioception (the awareness of his/her body in space) are all aspects which, when developed, improve athletic performance and are all prime for development at these ages.

There are drills you can do in the gym to better these attributes for sure and if hockey is the only path that the kid wants to take then it can be done. But even better, I would argue, is get out there and play other sports. All those athletic attributes will be developed through playing different sports and the kids will experience the benefit of both competition and of being part of a different team. Plus all the other great values that sport teaches us!

Until next time,

Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen, Focus Fitness Manager & Head Strength Coach

Originally published in Game On Magazine

The Press Box Restaurant, a year-round draw

Press Box Restaurant

Restaurants are always trying to find ways to attract more customers but for The Press Box Restaurant and Sports Bar, located on the second floor at the Bell MTS Iceplex, it’s the building they’re in that usually does the drawing for them.

Though you won’t typically find people going to The Press Box simply to go out for dinner, it’s the hot spot to grab a bite for anyone watching or playing hockey at the Iceplex. When there is a hockey tournament in the building, head chef Leonard Church says it doesn’t take long for the restaurant to fill up.

“During one tournament, we had people waiting at the door to get in,” said Church, who was formerly a chef at the Hilton, and served as the head chef for the Manitoba Winter Games in Thompson this year.

Though the restaurant is a convenient spot for players and fans alike to fuel up, The Press Box’s largest area of service is provided as a caterer. On top of catering for the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose players at the Iceplex, they feed the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy, Camp Manitou, and hockey teams after their games, whether in the restaurant or to-go.

“Every time is busy time,” said Church. “It just turns from one thing to another. In the summer we have camps in here, with around 250 kids a day. Then we get into hockey season with the Jets doing training camp, so then we have 120 guys a day for a couple meals. Then the restaurant opens up again in September, and we’re busy with that.”

With seating for more than 300, a full-service bar, and the ability to close off the restaurant for a more intimate setting, The Press Box offers an accommodating and versatile space for meetings and special events, and also caters to many functions in all areas of the city

“Most of the events we host are annual events,” said Jessica Rosenbaum, Event and Marketing Coordinator for the Bell MTS Iceplex. “Some events are one-offs, but tournaments are typically annual, so we know what to expect.”

Both Church and Rosenbaum noted that the quality service, flexible staff and accommodating catering menu keep groups coming back year after year.

“Word of mouth travels fast,” said Church. “Especially within the hockey community. Between the events and patrons at the Iceplex and off-site catering, we’re always busy.”

For team meals, snacks and appies while watching the game on one of the big screens, or a cold beverage, The Press Box Restaurant is open 5 – 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information, visit:

It’s Not Always How Much but How Well

As another off-season begins, it’s an exciting time to grow both physically and mentally in order to put yourself in a better position for the next season.

Because of this excitement it can sometimes be easy to think more is better. In fact, athletes will bury themselves under mountains of work and grind through marathon sessions in the gym and on the ice only to feel beat up and run down by the time they start training camp.

This is problematic considering we want the exact opposite to be true. We want to feel like we are peaking at the start of camp. Yes, we want to work hard in the off-season, but we also want to work intelligently. Every exercise and movement should have a purpose: To further develop our athletic attributes.

There is a misconception that if you don’t leave the gym half dead, dragging yourself home, it means you didn’t work hard enough or make constructive use of your time. Some trainers and strength coaches buy into this philosophy just to make their clients happy. When compounded over multiple off-seasons this training style quickly becomes counterproductive and leaves many broken-down, tired athletes in its wake.

Always remember this: Off season training should be about quality over quantity.

The hockey season is already a grind and the off season is already very short. We want to actively recover from the rigours of the season and progress into the next year. This can be done at the same time with well thought-out, smart programming.

My suggestion is to take a little time off, away from the ice – and away from skating — at the beginning of the off-season with more focus on mobility and base movements. This will give your body some time to recover while we put it in a position to be able to train again at a high quality level. We call this phase the primer phase as its priming our body to be able to train at the level we want. Here’s a good primer program:

Mobility: A high frequency sport like hockey has many repetitive movements that cause tightness and imbalances. These should be addressed through mobility work. We want to be able to move without restriction in order to get the most out of our training.

Aerobic: You need a proper aerobic base to be able to train, even in the weight room when we’re doing strength work. If we can’t recover between sets by having an efficient aerobic system, we are entering each set at a deficit and not getting the most out of it or hitting our full potential.

Base Strength Movements: A proper execution of the five basic movements (push, pull, hinge, squat, and carry) should be introduced at the appropriate progressions. This is our foundation. You cannot build an athlete on a poor foundation. It is only a matter of time before it becomes exposed and things fall apart. Tempo training should also be worked in with special attention to the eccentric loading of these movements in order to help with regaining strength — and strengthening tendons to get them ready for the intense strength and power work to follow in the training progressions.

Accessory Work: Smart accessory work can directly help to correct imbalances, improve mobility, aid in injury prevention and will complement the basic movements. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, just simple and well thought out. Hockey is a contact sport with lots of shoulder injuries so rotator cuff work should be programmed in as it helps with injury prevention, shooting, and assisting in the basic movements. This is an example of something simple, but effective.

Remember off season training is about quality not quantity. It should have you feeling at your best when camp starts. When it comes to training it’s not always about how much but rather how well. Enjoy your off season, work hard, and if you need help come see us.

Until next time,

Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen, Focus Fitness Manager & Head Strength Coach

Originally published in Game On Magazine