Bruised and battered after a grueling season, most hockey players find comfort in the summer months so they can unwind and take it easy. But as the summer speeds along, thoughts of the “daily grind” begin to envelop the minds of even the most seasoned professional hockey players.
Whether you’ve made it to the NHL or are working your way there, keeping yourself in the utmost physical and mental condition is a difficult task. Many deal with ailments that often cut their summer relaxation short, in hopes of being able to meet or even exceed expectations come time for training camp in September.
Such is the case for Matt Radoslovich, a right winger for the New Jersey Devils’ East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) affiliate, the Trenton Devils. Radoslovich was forced to undergo surgery this offseason to repair a torn abdominal muscle. The 26 year old native of Wanaque, NJ, admits it has been a challenge this summer to complete the rehab assignments and get to where he needs to be before the season begins.
By the time Radoslovich has done his due diligence to strengthen his body again, it will soon be time to face the daunting road ahead that is the 72-game regular season in the ECHL.
And how best do players like Radoslovich prepare for those sometimes 10-hour bus rides, and difficult stretches in the schedule where they might play three games in three days, or even four games in five days?
“By taking it in stride like a true professional should,” Radoslovich stated. “It’s a significant change from playing about 35 games with minimal travel at the collegiate level, but you can use it as a character builder for you and the team, without question.”
Radoslovich attended Boston University where he was a 4 year starter on the varsity team. He began his professional career playing for the Quad City Mallards of the International Hockey League, formerly of the United Hockey League, prior to making his way to Trenton.
Radoslovich admitted that there are often situations where you are playing in your third game in three nights and that you might not “have your legs.” The formula for success then becomes playing a smarter, simpler game according to Radoslovich.
Preparation and focus to play is much more involved than just showing up to the rink at the last minute, strapping on the pads, and expecting to have success. Rather, the preparation begins early in the morning on a daily basis.
According to Radoslovich, on a typical practice day, he must arrive to the rink at 8:30 am, complete a warm up and team stretch around 9:30 and be ready to study video, by 10:00 am, either of a previous game’s performance or clips of an upcoming opponent. This undoubtedly allows a chance for the coaching staff to discuss strategy with the players and to correct any problems in the team or a specific player’s game. All of this occurs prior to the team even setting foot on the ice. Practices typically run about an hour and 15 minutes, followed by after-practice drills to improve their skating or shooting skills.
“After the pads come off, there is still work to be done,” explained Radoslovich. “If it is early in the week, the coaching staff could schedule a full-body workout coupled with a short bike ride. School and hospital appearances in the local community can easily round out the typical “off” day.”
Not for the faint of heart, being a professional hockey player requires both physical and mental toughness on a consistent basis for nearly six months of the calendar year.
Asked whether or not the thought of one day making it to the NHL can sometimes distract a player from the task at hand each night, Radoslovich replied, “The big goal obviously is for everyone to move up, but I don’t think many guys are thinking about that before or during a game.
“The players want to see the team and the organization become successful each season, so players are willing to do whatever it takes to win, and leave it all out on the ice.”
So, with rookie camps and training sessions in full swing, and with the pre-season right around the corner, let’s pay homage to the ice warriors that make the game of hockey one of the most exciting sports to watch.