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.
(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
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
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
60 Jonathan Boutin
1 Sean Burke
50 Gerald Coleman
30 Marc Denis
40 Johan Holmqvist
31 Karri Ramo