Last summer, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos trained with former NHLer Gary Roberts just outside Toronto. The end result was 51 goals and a Rocket Richard Trophy, a title Stamkos shared with Sidney Crosby. And while playing on a line with Martin St-Louis certainly helped the offensive splurge, there’s no mistaking the impact Roberts and his growing cult of fitness is beginning to have on the hockey world.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what kind of on-ice results the students have this season. And there were a lot more of them.
Along with the return of Stamkos, Roberts trained NHLers such as Steve Downie, Michael Del Zotto and Stephen Weiss. Downie, a teammate and occasional linemate of Stamkos, had his own breakout season in 2009-10, breaking the 20-goal mark for the first time as an NHLer. Del Zotto had a respectable 37 points from the New York Rangers blueline as a rookie, while Weiss had his second-straight season of at least 60 points in Florida.
For me, Weiss will be the most interesting to watch. Without runningmate Nathan Horton (traded to Boston), Weiss is now the lone focal point on a Panthers offense that has potential (David Booth, Michael Frolik, Shawn Matthias), but no one who could yet be considered elite.
Another question will be how immediate Roberts’ training techniques will be. For example, Carolina Hurricanes prospect Jeff Skinner, drafted seventh overall this summer, will make his first run at an NHL roster spot this fall. True, the Canes already have a lot of young talent to squeeze in, but as Ryan O’Reilly proved in Colorado last year, making the jump from draft podium to the big squad isn’t just for the top three selections.
Skinner first raised eyebrows at Carolina’s rookie development camp earlier this summer and credits the event with helping him get adjusted for the upcoming NHL version.
“It’s definitely nice to go into the camp knowing I know a bit more than I did before,” he said. “I’m really excited for it.”
Skinner trained with a slew of other prospects at the Roberts camp, including incoming Erie Otters rookie Connor Crisp, new Oshawa General Lucas Lessio, Soo Greyhound Daniel Catenacci and, occasionally, Vancouver Canucks prospect Cody Hodgson. Skinner was extremely pleased with his Roberts experience.
“I learned a lot from a guy who’s been through it all,” he said. “That knowledge he has, it really helped me out this summer.”
Stamkos also bought into the program thanks to Roberts’ resume, which included a battle-scarred NHL career until the age of 42.
“I mean, he came back from a broken neck and played, what, 12 more seasons?” Stamkos said.
Not only does Roberts inspire through past deeds, he adds interesting twists to the workout regime. Part of Stamkos’ workout included uneven exercises – where, for example, he would have different weights on either side of his body, but lifted at the same rate – and pulling a 120-pound sled behind him for 30 yards, then shedding the sled and sprinting back as fast as possible.
Another big emphasis is on the nutrition side, where Roberts hired a local organic food store to prepare and deliver meals straight to the gym so players wouldn’t have to wait until they got home to chow down. Though Stamkos said it took him a couple weeks to get used to the cuisine (“You don’t have the luxury of tossing some mayo on.”) before loving the fresh feeling he got, Skinner didn’t mind what some would consider bland fare.
“It was good,” he laughed. “It’s nice when you come off your workout and he’s got a meal prepared for you. It tasted good and it was all good for you.”
According to Skinner, a typical meal would consist of organic roasted chicken in a whole wheat wrap with a Greek yogurt parfait to go with it and a salad.
The students were certainly impressed with both the workouts and the nutrition advice; now the question is what kind of results the regime will inspire on the ice.