The most interesting activity on Kettler ice for day one of the Washington Capitals training camp was obviously the conditioning tests held on the Arlington rink (otherwise known as “the other rink”). Caps skaters were put through five reps of four and a half full length, timed sprints with two minutes of rest in between reps.
When my son Austin and I arrived at Kettler, Group A was just making their way over to skate the conditioning test. As expected, the early leaders in Group A were Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich. Ovi’s fitness is an oft debated subject while Laich’s off-season training regimen is legendary. However, passed the halfway point of the test, 39-year-old winger, Mike Knuble started to pull away from the pack. Group B saw Jason Chimera stretch his legs a bit as he almost lapped his teammates. I doubt this conditioning test was very much of a challenge for him. Chimera’s stride is so efficient, he doesn’t have to work very hard to complete a couple down-and-backs. The final group of the day had many of the skaters looking for a spot on the team. Christian Hanson absolutely killed the conditioning test. That kid has a great stride. Also noticeable was Joel Rechlicz who paced his group while using what appeared to be a wood stick. Not many players use wood sticks anymore because they’re heavier and have less consistent flex properties than modern composite sticks. Recher pushed hard through the skate, even with the extra weight of a wood stick, to lead the skaters in his group to the finish (yes, I know, who cares?).
At the end of each group’s skate, blood samples were taken from each skater to measure lactate build up as a result of the strenuous workout. The science behind this type of test is well documented and other professional sports perform similar tests. However, a skating-only test of this kind is unique, as far as I know. Most hockey clubs use either a running or stationary bike conditioning test. What better measure of on-ice performance than actually testing, on the ice?
The combination of timed reps and lactate measurements provides an interesting conditioning baseline that Caps players, trainers, coaches, and management can use to gauge fitness moving forward. I doubt that as Austin and I stood next to Capitals general manager, George McPhee, that the GM was really looking at who was finishing first. Sure, he was probably looking for effort out of each player. However, I don’t believe the visual observations or scientific measurements taken from the conditioning test will be used to make any roster decisions during this training camp. The results of each player’s test will most likely be used by the club to tailor training programs to maximize each player’s performance, next offseason. Contrary to popular belief, the conditioning test wasn’t something that a player could pass or fail. The test was not about who finished first, last, or how fast. Yes, players are competitive and want to beat each others times. The true value of the conditioning test was the data collected for each player. The conditioning test will pay dividends starting next year when players and the club can compare data to develop plans for improvement.
That’s why it wasn’t such a big deal that Roman Hamrlik left the Arlington rink after the first rep. I noticed early during Hamrlik’s work in drills with the entire group, he was not skating at 100%. When he moved over to the other sheet to skate the test, Bruce Boudreau and Hamrlik had a quick conversation and the veteran defenseman left the ice. Later it was revealed by Boudreau that Hamrlik had felt tightness in his legs while skating last week and he was feeling discomfort skating on day one of training camp. Boudreau told Hamrlik to “shut it down” for the day as a precautionary measure. Hamrlik will skate the test later on, when the risk of injury is minimized. There was absolutely no reason to risk injury to a defenseman that will be relied upon in key situations this season just to gather conditioning data.
After all, any questions about players’ fitness levels will be answered this week. The Capitals’ preseason schedule begins against the Nashville Predators at the Baltimore Hockey Classic on Tuesday. From Baltimore, the Caps travel to Columbus on Wednesday and Chicago on Friday. A three games in four nights schedule, even in preseason, will be a pretty good measure of the team’s fitness.