It’s often said the game is a year-round business, not just the seven or eight months games are played.
Wolves players leave Sudbury after the season is done, but that doesn’t mean they leave the game. I often hear players say they look forward to getting home to enjoy a couple of weeks off, before it's back into the gym and onto the ice to be ready for next season.
Back in the old days, players took the off-season off and didn’t think about hockey until a couple of weeks before training camp.
Of course, the competition for roster spots has changed that way of thinking. No longer can players take for granted that their place on a team is secure. How many times have you heard that for every player picked, there are two or three others chomping at the bit for an opportunity?
Also, junior hockey players, like those on the Wolves, are, for the most part, teenagers. Their bodies are changing constantly; they’re getting bigger and stronger and they need to make sure their fitness levels keep pace.
That said, I like what Wolves coach Paul Fixter had to say at the team’s recent orientation camp. Most of the players who took part hadn’t been off the ice that long, so were still in decent shape and hadn’t yet started thinking about the off-season.
But Fixter stressed the off-season was just as important as the playing season. He wanted them to compete hard at the camp and make use of the off-season fitness plan provided, but he also urged them to find down time.
Fixter hit the nail right on the head. It is so easy to stay emerged in the game year round, but without a break, you are likely doing more harm than good.
When you look at the players who competed at the recent Memorial Cup, they were going non-stop until the end of May. That translates into nine months of high-level competition.
Don’t forget, these players are on the ice almost daily. Including pre-season, regular season and the playoffs, they play close to 100 games.
The NHL season goes to mid-June with well over 100 games, but they’re not kids — it’s a job and they get well paid for their efforts.
Junior hockey players are kids. They might have the ability, commitment and determination of professionals, but that doesn't mean they are, yet. And some will never be.
Paul Fixter is right. Players need time away from the game to rest and recharge their batteries.
But most of all, they need time just to be kids.
Stew Kernan is the radio and television voice of the Sudbury Wolves, and the News Director at KiSS 105.3 and Q92.