tampabay.com

Keeping players skating, not on ice

Not to jinx things, but the Lightning's incredibly low injury numbers are too good not to talk about.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published September 14, 2006


BRANDON - Lightning center Brad Richards rapped his knuckles on the strip of wood above his locker before tackling the subject.

Just being careful, he said. No one wants to jinx a remarkable streak in which Tampa Bay during the past two seasons lost just 92 man games combined to injury or illness.

The league's average in that stretch: 517.

"That," said Todd Schlifstein, a sports medicine rehab physician at NYU Medical Center, "is unbelievable.

"With a number that dramatic, it's more than just a coincidence or a lucky season. There's obviously more to it than that, and it probably has to do with the training regimen."

And you can't talk about that without talking about Lightning training camp, which opens today at the Ice Sports Forum.

You've heard the stories. The fitness testing, the grueling pace, the occasional vomit on the ice.

The pain is obvious. The gain, though, is a level of fitness that some experts say wards off injuries and helps others heal faster.

"There is definitely a carryover," said Schlifstein, who took part in a study of hockey injuries published in the January 2000 edition of the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.

"A team that goes into the season better prepared is obviously at an advantage. The better aerobic and strength conditioning you're in, the better you heal from any kind of injury. You have better oxygen supply. You have better blood supply."

Lightning players need all the help they can get in the three-week camp.

Today's schedule includes off-ice fitness testing, six three-lap skates in full gear and a 3-mile run. Friday features three 15-lap skates, though goaltenders get off easy with 12 laps.

Even after scrimmages, players go through on- and off-ice conditioning. That after they were expected to follow an extensive training program during the summer.

"If the player comes in physiologically peaked for performance, then the corollary to that is usually mitigation of injuries," strength and conditioning coach Eric Lawson said.

On the other hand, he added, "A lot of this is pure luck. But if you look at our track record, it would appear we're doing something right."

Consider that in three seasons before coach John Tortorella ran his first camp, the Lightning lost 296, 456 and 269 man games.

General manager Jay Feaster said to ensure players stuck to the summer workout program, or at least followed one of their own, Tortorella in 2001-02, his first full season, began fitness testing.

The team also brought in Lawson, previously the head conditioning physiologist for the United States Olympic Committee.

Feaster said the two work together crafting the camp program, but Tortorella, who declined comment for this article, has the lead.

"He's a student of it. He has studied this stuff extensively (on his own)," Feaster said. "He relies on Eric, but Eric doesn't do anything Torts isn't on board with."

The downward trend began when the Lightning lost 258 man games to injury in 2001-02, 143 in 2002-03.

In the 2003-04 Stanley Cup season, Tampa Bay lost an astonishing league-low 34. The Kings were tops with 629.

Tampa Bay was low in 2005-06 with 58. The Bruins led with 403.

More telling, though, was the lack of groin injuries, the bane of all hockey players because they can take so darn long to heal.

In 2003-04, the team lost zero games to that injury other than nine missed by defenseman Stan Neckar, who already was hurt when acquired from the Predators.

Last season, the team lost nine games to groin injuries, seven after goaltender Sean Burke stepped on a puck during a morning skate.

"It sounds like they're putting themselves in the best position possible," Schlifstein said. "Things are going to happen, but the nagging injuries, the chronic wear-and-tear injuries they are trying to control."

Trainer Tommy Mulligan said the Lightning does that in part by not using start-and-stop skating drills early in camp.

Brian Krabak, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins University, said that is smart.

"When we have people come in with overuse injuries, one of the biggest issues they've had is they ramp up too quickly," he said. "Runners get stress fractures because they increase way too fast, and they spend the rest of the time trying to play catch-up. It sounds like Tampa Bay has found a good formula to balance those needs on multiple levels."

Rest also is key. Two off days are scheduled during camp. Numerous ones are provided during the season.

"That's huge," Mulligan said. "Just one day of them not being out there and pushing themselves allows those muscles to recover. It prevents breakdowns throughout the season."

Now, though, the focus is on the start of what has become known as Camp Torturella.

"We all dread it, but it's good because we all prepare for it," Richards said. "In a way, it tricks us into being in good shape because we know if we don't do it, we'll be embarrassed. It prepares you."

Knock on wood.

LIGHTNING TRAINING CAMP

WHERE: Ice Sports Forum, 10222 Elizabeth Place, Brandon

WHEN: Physicals and testing are today and Friday. Scrimmages begin Saturday.

SPECTATORS: Free and open to the public.

DIRECTIONS: Take Lee Roy Selmon Expressway east and exit at Faulkenburg Road. Go left (north) on Faulkenburg past Adamo Drive. Go right (east) on Elizabeth Place to the rink.

SCHEDULE

(subject to change)

TODAY: Physicals and testing, 9 a.m.

FRIDAY: Physicals and testing, 8 a.m.

SATURDAY: Scrimmages, 10 a.m.

SUNDAY: Scrimmages, 10 a.m.

MONDAY: Scrimmages, 10 a.m.

TUESDAY: Scrimmages, 10 a.m.

WEDNESDAY: No workouts, team traveling.

SEPT. 23: Off.

SEPT. 24: Pregame skate, 10 a.m.

SEPT. 25: Practice, 11 a.m.

SEPT. 26: Practice, 11 a.m.

SEPT. 27: Off day, camp moves to St. Pete Times Forum, where practices are closed to the public.

TRAINING CAMP ROSTER

FORWARDS

29 Dmitry Afanasenkov

15 Nikita Alexeev

61 Marek Bartanus

41 Zdenek Blatny

83 Dave Cavanaugh

34 Ryan Craig

18 Rob DiMaio

63 Brandon Elliott

17 Ruslan Fedotenko

36 Mitch Fritz

42 Eric Healey

59 Adam Henrich

72 Zbynek Hrdel

49 Blair Jones

24 Andreas Karlsson

64 Justin Keller

65 Marek Kvapil

43 Stanislav Lascek

73 Chris Lawrence

4 Vinny Lecavalier

14 Norm Milley

9 Eric Perrin

20 Vinny Prospal

46 Darren Reid

19 Brad Richards

52 Radek Smolenak

26 Marty St. Louis

74 Nick Tarnasky

27 Tim Taylor

DEFENSEMEN

57 John Adams

51 Doug Andress

45 P.J. Atherton

47 Clayton Barthel

22 Dan Boyle

85 Dane Crowley

5 Andy Delmore

38 Sylvain Dufresne

48 Mike Egener

3 Doug Janik

71 Filip Kuba

56 Vladimir Mihalik

39 Doug O'Brien

44 Nolan Pratt

54 Paul Ranger

7 Luke Richardson

55 Andy Rogers

53 Jay Rosehill

21 Cory Sarich

37 Matt Smaby

67 Geoff Waugh

GOALTENDERS

60 Jonathan Boutin

1 Sean Burke

50 Gerald Coleman

30 Marc Denis

40 Johan Holmqvist

31 Karri Ramo