If Saturday’s thrilling Canadian victory over the USA in Playoff Round action proved anything, it’s that a team’s conditioning is vital to its success.
Both Canada and the USA were able to maintain a high tempo and physical play throughout 60 minutes of regulation time and 10 minutes of overtime prior to the shootout. It shows what a big role conditioning played in the pre-championship preparations for these two elite teams.
The Canadians work particularly hard to ensure that they are the most physically fit team each time they step onto the ice. Just ask Team Canada strength and conditioning coach Jason Poole.
“You never know what can happen, so we give ourselves the best chance and the best opportunity no matter what happens in a game,” said Poole. “[The team’s conditioning] is important because we want to make sure we give all our athletes the best chance to be able to compete at their best. And we’re working hard, and they’re working hard on a day-to-day basis to be able to do that.”
With three major training centres in Canada (one in Montreal, one in Toronto, and one in Calgary), and twelve regional satellite training centres spread all across the country, Poole and his staff always have a finger on the conditioning pulse of their players, so to speak. Assigned workout plans throughout the year, Team Canada players make sure they’re in top shape by not just focusing on one workout routine.
“We challenge them in a lot of different ways,” said Poole. “Obviously the strength development is important. Injury prevention is also important, especially in the season. They have a lot more games, so we’re stressing to make sure they’re getting ready for these big competitions that we have.”
Former Team Canada star Cassie Campbell is evidence that Poole’s workout routines can lead to success. The 33-year-old acknowledged that strength and conditioning played a big part in her career.
“In today’s game it’s huge,” said Campbell. “It’s so competitive just to make the team. For me as an older player as I moved on, I think fitness was what kept my career as long as it was. It’s become a huge part of the game. It’s a full-time job for these players and it really makes a difference.”
The Richmond Hill, Ontario product retired from competitive hockey in August, 2006, and now does colour commentary for various TV networks. She is best-known for captaining Team Canada to back-to-back gold medals at the 20 Winter Olympics.
“For me [conditioning] was just about that first step and I think overall strength as well,” said Campbell. “My game was all about being in front of the net and in the corners, so just trying to gain some upper body strength and weight training were the two things I focused on.”
Charline Labonté, the 24-year-old Team Canada goalie who was between the pipes for the 5-4 shootout win over the Americans, said strength and conditioning have always been of major importance to her career, whether she likes it or not.
“I think all the teams here know what it takes, and everybody’s in really good shape,” said Labonté. “You don’t have a choice. You need to work out and it’s a lot of work, but like if it goes into a shootout, you still have to have the drive and energy to go through that.”
Labonté, who played parts of two seasons with the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan against male junior players, started serious strength training at the age of 15. And she was just like everyone else when it came to getting up for those early morning workouts.
“You need to do it. And you need to set your mind that you are going to do it. Because it sucks, and sometimes you don’t want to wake up at six in the morning to go work out. But if you just think about what your dreams are, it is easy. And that should be enough to push you and get you out of your bed in the morning. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really worth it.”
Team Canada now has a day off before facing the Finns in its final Playoff Round game on Monday night. A win will give the Canadians a spot in the gold medal final Tuesday evening. It’s a game they’re conditioned and ready for.