For pro hockey players, there's a natural flow to every offseason. They take some time off to rest and heal up. Most return to the ice mid-summer. And then they begin to gradually ramp up their workouts as training camp approaches.
For some NHLers participating in next month’s World Cup of Hockey, though, that schedule has been accelerated this summer.
Take Capitals stars John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom for example. Not only did they get back on the ice earlier than usual, they’ve also begun increasing the intensity of their practice sessions sooner than in years past.
“I probably started skating two-and-a-half weeks earlier, just because everything is a little bit earlier and it’s a little bit crazier of a schedule,” Carlson on Friday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where he joined Backstrom and Stan Galiev for an informal skate. “In the NHL, you get a month long training camp. [With the World Cup], we’re going to have seven or eight practices before we’re playing a game that really means something.”
The defenseman added: “It’s a lot different. But that’s why I’ve prepared differently for it. You have to make sure you’re ready to do certain things because once you’re in games, you have to stop and start. You can’t turn. You have play things a little bit differently. There’s a lot more attention to detail. That’s what I’m doing now, but I’m doing it a lot earlier.”
Backstrom said he also returned to the ice about two weeks earlier than in previous summers.
“I can only speak for myself, but I went on the ice earlier than usual,” he said. “I want to make sure I come [to the World Cup] prepared and ready to go right away. You pretty much have five days, a couple of exhibition games, then you have to be ready when the puck drops."
“So,” Backstrom continued, “I got on the ice earlier, just to make sure I have that feel. And I’m skating a little harder. I’m just going to keep ramping up as it gets closer.”
In all, eight Capitals players and Head Coach Barry Trotz will participate in the eight-team World Cup.
Carlson will, of course, suit up on Team USA alongside fellow Capitals teammates T.J. Oshie and Matt Niskanen. Backstrom will represent Sweden. Meantime, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov will play for Russia, while Braden Holtby and Trotz (assistant coach) are on Team Canada.
Each team will convene for meetings, practices and pre-tournament games before the tournament gets underway Sept. 17 in Toronto and runs through Oct. 1.
For the Caps in the tournament, it's going to be a lot more than they're accustomed to doing in mid-September, which is typically the beginning of training camp. But Carlson and Backstrom said they’re not concerned that the increased workload will have any adverse effects on their bodies or preparation for the grueling 82-game NHL campaign, which begins Oct. 13 in Pittsburgh.
Backstrom, in fact, says he sees the World Cup as potentially a good thing for teams like the Caps that are sending a bunch of players. (Only the Lightning and Blackhawks, with 12, are sending more players).
“I think it can only help,” Backstrom said. “For all the players [in the World Cup], hopefully we’ll get used to playing tough games and bring that into season and we can get a good start because of it.”
Whether that actually happens remains to be seen. But Carlson and Backstrom are already sure of this much: international hockey tournaments are almost always a lot of fun, for the fans and the participants.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Carlson said. “I think it’s going to be a great show. Whenever you can play for your country vs. other countries, it’s an added bonus in terms of pride and level of cool. It’s awesome that we’re watching the Olympics now, and then we get to go out and compete for your country in just a few weeks here.”
Backstrom added: “It’s going to be a great experience. I’m really excited about it. I just want to start playing. There are some good teams and it’s going to be tough. But [Sweden] has a good team. We have a good chance.”
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