By Blake Dillon
Photo By Arsenik Studios Inc.
NHL players, arguably more so than any other professional athlete, must maintain an incredibly delicate balance between fitness and skill. If they get too big, they’ll be slow on their skates. If they get too lean, they’ll get knocked off the puck. To ensure their body is NHL-ready, hockey players must adhere to a fitness regimen that is as precise as it is intense. In a lot of respects, it’s a science.
That’s why every August, an elite group of NHL players quietly gathers at a rink in downtown Toronto. For one week, they put affiliations, rivalries, and competition aside, and work with each other to get that extra edge before the season begins. Under the tutelage of BioSteel-approved trainers and coaches, these players grind through long days in the gym and on the ice to prepare for the long season ahead. It’s a pre-training camp training camp, if you will.
While the cat’s out of the bag on what BioSteel’s #CAMP is all about — this was its sixth year, after all — it’s still a very exclusive jamboree for hockey folk. Only 40 NHLers and NHL hopefuls attend the camp, and spots fill up rather quickly. Among this year’s group of participants were players like Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, Mike Cammalleri, Michael Del Zotto, and Wayne Simmonds.
Simmonds, in particular, has developed a great affinity for the camp, this being the Philadelphia Flyer’s fourth time attending. He tells me that Matt Nichol, the founder of both BioSteel Sports Supplements and this BioSteel-branded camp, simply knows how to get the best out of him.
“This camp is a really good skate,” Simmonds says. “Matt puts us all through a pretty good workout. Everybody’s here for the same reason: to get ready for the upcoming season. He helps us do that.”
The numbers don’t lie — Nichol and his BioSteel comrades do get the best out of Simmonds. In the three full seasons since he first attended the old, unassuming St. Michael’s College School Arena for BioSteel’s camp, he’s netted 28, 29, and 28 goals, respectively. This quietly puts him among the NHL’s elite — only 19 players have more goals than him during this stretch, and they include the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, and Phil Kessel.
Simmonds knows that this recent run of success is a direct result of his hard work in the gym, and his willingness to take part in offseason programs like BioSteel’s.
“You’ve got to treat your body like it’s a racecar,” he says. “Whatever work you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it.”
As a power forward, Simmonds’ body racks up mileage a lot quicker than the other goal scorers on that list. While Stamkos and Kessel can dazzle their way to the highlight reel, Simmonds has to work for his goals. He hits, he fights, he grinds. And, as a result, he has to build his body differently than others might, focusing on lower-body and core exercises like the trap bar deadlift, which is his favourite move. (The bench press is his least favourite, though he admits that might be because his long, lanky arms prevent him from executing it properly.) This helps him with explosiveness, endurance, strength, and speed — the guy can gallop, and he wins puck battles more often than not.
But just as Simmonds’ fitness regimen differs from other hockey players in the league, he argues that a hockey player’s training plan in general differs from other professional athletes around the world. With a sporadic schedule, he says you can’t commit to a specific routine. Plus, over the course of an 82-game season and playoffs that can now stretch into late June (if you’re lucky), there are a lot of peaks and valleys in the gym — one week you’re going hard, and the next you’re pumping the brakes almost completely (coaches call them “maintenance days”).
“If you’re playing two games in three nights, three games in five nights, or something along those lines, you’ve got to slow down a little bit,” Simmonds explains. “That said, even though you play a lot of games, it’s vital that you’re doing something every day, whether it’s just riding the stationary bike or doing a quick little workout. It’s important to maintain the fitness levels you built for yourself during the summer.”
Apart from his time at BioSteel’s camp, it was an incredibly busy offseason for Simmonds. After missing the final seven games of the year with what the Flyers nonchalantly called a lower-body injury (he got specific, telling me it was a gnarly broken tibia he suffered after blocking a slapshot that kept him out), he spent much of the summer rehabbing and conditioning his leg. He also hosted his annual charity ball hockey tournament in his hometown of Scarborough, Ontario, where he raised almost $7,000 and donated a whack of used hockey equipment to underprivileged children from the Scarborough community. He also runs a summer program called Wayne’s Warriors, where he selects four lucky kids from the same community and pays for their hockey fees for the year and outfits them with all-new hockey equipment.
Despite all of that, though, Simmonds assures me that he remained focused during the offseason, spending most of the summer thinking about the season ahead. Team-wise, his goal this year is to get the Flyers back into the playoffs after missing them two of the last three seasons, and from a personal standpoint, Simmonds doesn’t set statistical goals for himself — he simply wants to solidify his place as a leader on the Flyers (though he does admit hitting that 30- goal mark would be nice, considering he’s been oh-so-close three times now).
While many would argue that the Flyers could be playoff-bound this year and that Simmonds is already a leader on the team (that “A” on his jersey isn’t there by chance), he knows that there’s still a long road ahead, and that none of his goals will come without putting in the work off the ice.
“I’ve just got to keep working hard, and good things will happen,” he says.