No? Well maybe a better question is, do you even need to?
I was listening to TSN Radio earlier this morning, and the topic of Phil Kessel’s apparent lack of marathon running and ab crunches popped up. The guest was former Leaf and noted machine, Gary Roberts.
I didn’t catch the entire segment on Kessel from the beginning, but Roberts got to talking about the trade-off between strength and speed from adding weight (presumably muscle) in the offseason, and it got me to thinking of how we often assume “[Player] is in the best shape of his life” means a career-season is in the cards, or “[Young player] is putting on weight” means they’re more equipped to go to the “dirty areas” of the rink and be more effective.
No doubt, this might be true at times, but as Roberts quickly pointed out, everyone is different, and hitting the weight room isn’t the best option for certain styles of players.
None of us really know what players do in the offseason in detail. We hear that someone is a “beast” in the gym and worship their commitment, or we get a look at some photos from a golf tournament or wedding and decide that a player is fat and out of shape. And a lot of us assume that if players aren’t doing all they can at the gym, they can never truly reach their peak. But the opposite is true for some, and good examples would include guys like Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk, and of course, Kessel.
If you look at Kane, he’s a little guy, doesn’t hit much, and is basically the definition of “shifty” in hockey terms. From what I can gather, he also isn’t the type of guy who spends his free time trying to get jacked as hell. Kane is arguably the most electric player in the league, and has an unbelievable amount of strength with the puck, especially considering his small frame. But as Roberts noted this morning, this is because he’s grown up his entire life with a puck on his stick. Anyone with that amount of skill had to. And as Roberts went on to explain, that’s not everyone’s game. It certainly wasn’t his during his career. Some players, like Roberts, benefit from tossing around iron, and others play a style that might actually be hindered by it. (Note: Roberts also told a story about how Jaromir Jagr’s father never let him complete a practice drill without a puck, ever. What a legend.)
To throw a guy like Kane into a weight room isn’t going to make him shoot the puck any harder, and it could mess with the mechanics of his wizardry with the puck on his stick. Leave the guy alone. And the same goes for Kessel, a player who has seen his fitness level questioned a number of times, but has also been described as the kind of guy who can quickly pick up anything competitive. Whether it’s ping-pong, golf, video games, apparently Kessel will kick the shit out of you in anything requiring a high level of dexterity.
This might sound absolutely crazy, but who’s to say the golf course isn’t Kessel’s gym? It sounds downright hilarious when you say that aloud, especially considering he’s a Leaf, but Kessel (like Kane) doesn’t smash people in the corners, and he doesn’t play with a lot of contact because he’s quick and knows how to use his skill to create space. Engaging in activities that stress hand-eye coordination, spacial awareness, and attention to detail probably help in that regard.
Did weight-lifting do this?
Nope. It was likely about a trillion practice shots and some funky brain wiring that created that kind of technique, something that a third liner isn’t going to be able to do even if they hit the bench-press for three hours a day.