A year ago, Barry Trotz was a lot more ready for the Washington Capitals than they were for him. Players had heard he was demanding, but didn’t know how much.
They heard his fitness test on the first day of training camp would push them to the limit, but even Joel Ward, who had played for Trotz in Nashville, suffered the humility of falling short on a skate test and having his head coach literally push him from behind.
Today, behind closed doors at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the Capitals will participate in off-ice fitness tests that will measure how much effort they put into summer workout programs specifically designed to strengthen their weaknesses.
“I think when I was 20 years old I could do 10 jumping jacks and I was ready for the season,” said Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, who at 28 is beginning his ninth NHL season. “It doesn’t work that way anymore. Not that I’m old, but it takes more to get into on-ice conditioning.”
Niskanen spent his summer strengthening his upper body with the desired result of moving opponents out of the crease and off pucks in the corners.
“I guess we’ll see in testing,” he said. “You don’t really know until you start playing exhibition games and you’re pushing people in the corners and in front of the net.”
At 209 pounds, Niskanen said he weighs the same as he did at the end of last season but feels much stronger on the ice. He’ll get an idea just how strong when the Caps open their seven-game exhibition season on Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
While most of the Capitals know what to expect in Year 2 under Trotz, newcomers Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie will be participating in their first training camp under the 53-year-old coach, who is entering his 18th year as an NHL bench boss.
“It’s on our shoulders to prepare the newer guys for what’s coming,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik, who is starting his 13th NHL season. “Those guys have been around. It’s not like they’re rookies coming in naive.”
Orpik said Williams and Oshie should find Trotz’s honesty refreshing.
“He can be hard at times and demanding most of the time, but I think the one thing guys like about him is there are no secrets,” Orpik said. “You know exactly what he expects out of you and you know exactly where you stand.
“He doesn’t play mind games with anybody. He’s pretty straightforward and as an athlete you want that. At times it’s not all that fun, but I think he knows when to push us out of our comfort zones. It’s not always the most pleasant, but he’s pretty honest about his evaluations.”
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