The big idea

I’ve been a hockey player since I was nine years old, not a good hockey player, in the grand scheme of things, but an enthusiastic and somewhat serious one. I played minor hockey up to the midget level but went no further in the competitive ranks. Throughout my 20s, 30s and early 40s I’ve been a once-a-week beer leaguer.

Over the last decade or so, playing hockey has become increasingly dissatisfying for me. The loss of muscle mass that comes with aging has robbed me of the quickness and speed that were once the pre-eminent features of my limited hockey abilities. Thanks to age and poor fitness, my recent hockey playing has been accompanied by a constant companion: unflagging fatigue. As a result of these reverse developments, I now lose many of the races I used to win, get easily overtaken and fleeced of the puck, change directions with the agility of an oil tanker, defend as effectively as a Canada goose and am no more of an offensive threat than the Obama administration.

I’ve been contemplating retirement for a few years now but I just can’t seem to walk away. I could seek out a 35 or 40-plus league, but these are rare and I’ve heard that the skill level is highly variable in these leagues, and that they tend to be dominated by teams loaded with fine players who play far younger than their years.

So that leaves two other options: continue to play and accept the continued decline that comes with aging, or do something to improve my performance. As of this week, I’m rejecting door number one in favour of door number two.

I’ve been interested in off-season hockey training for a few years. As a reporter for the St. Albert Gazette I’ve interviewed a few trainers and learned a bit about the methods used to train today’s hockey players. It was interesting to learn about the committment that’s required of players and also get a glimpse at the various exercises employed ... a lot of hopping, footwork, sprinting and explosive jumps, I learned.

"Abuse! Abuse!"

A few years ago I bought a book entitled Complete Conditioning for Hockey by Peter Twist, the former conditioning coach for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. This book remained untouched for years until a recent injury and subsequent rehab motivated me to finally open it up.

I injured my knee back in July (playing beer league hockey of course) and my physio rehab involved various hopping and leaping exercises. While my injured knee didn’t mind these movements, my leg muscles screamed holy murder.

“There are international treaties banning this type of abuse!” they bellowed.

As I was doing these exercises I suspected they were similar to the ones used to build strength and power in the legs of hockey players. So I dug out the Twist book and started reading. Sure enough, there were similarities between my physio exercises and the book’s hockey-focused exercises.

That simple connection lit a fire under my long-dormant rear. Without really planning it out or thinking it through, I decided to finally start training. Within minutes I was out chugging and sweating my way around the neighbourhood.

Now some people may think it’s silly for a grown man to spend time and energy training on a dead-end sporting endeavour. After all, my hockey career isn’t going anywhere. And no one trains for beer league hockey. It’s practically a beer league badge of honour to be out of shape but still out there givin’ ‘er.

I must admit that I feel like I’m doing something weird by engaging in this pursuit. But on a logical level I reject the conventional thinking that leads to this conclusion.

The pursuit of golf springs to mind when I rationalize what I’m doing. Our society finds it quite acceptable for men my age to spend vast amounts of time and money playing golf and working to improve their golf skills. All I’m doing is applying that same level of dedication to my hockey (except I’m doing it on the cheap.) So, I ask you, am I weird for adopting a beer league hockey training program?

You just answered yes, didn’t you?

I knew it. Actually, I answered yes too. There’s no getting around it, this is weird. But you know what? I’m fine with that. After all, if you get through life without doing anything weird, you’re not trying hard enough. And if there’s one thing I’ve always brought to the table as a hockey player, it’s good, solid effort. My hope is that, after a few weeks of dedicated training, I’ll be able to crank that up to a full 110 per cent.