While fans get to see the Niagara IceDogs in action on the ice, what they don’t get to see is what an average OHL player goes through on a day to day basis to ensure they are in tip-top shape and ready to play come game time.
During the week the players keep themselves busy by making community appearances, working out, and bonding with teammates. On November 24, IceDogs photographer Joel Smith and Media Relations intern Jeff Blay had a chance to follow a few of the ‘Dogs around to get a feel of their daily routine.
The morning began with an appearance at E.I. McCulley elementary school, where Johnson Andrews, Jason Wilson and our mascot Bones made an appearance and took time to give a speech, answer questions, and play in a ball hockey game against some of the students and teachers at the school.
“Everything we do in a day is important, starting with the school visits and giving back to the community,” said 20-year-old forward Jason Wilson. “We have great fans in Niagara and it’s great to show them we appreciate them.”
The kids were thrilled to have the IceDogs as guests giving them a warm welcome, while also cheering very loudly for both their classmates and the ‘Dogs during the ball hockey game.
“It’s always a good time getting out with the kids at the school, they support us so it’s nice to show them support back, play some ball hockey and have some fun to show them the other side of the game and that we are still just kids too,” said Andrews.
IceDogs mascot, Bones, got an exceptionally welcoming applause and took time to play with the children and sign autographs.
After visiting the school, we then followed the boys to White Oaks fitness facility, where the IceDogs go to take part in their daily workout. Upon our arrival, we were met by the rest of the team who were just finishing their workouts. For the players who are not in high school, and do not have a College or University course, they report to White Oaks every morning for a breakfast club workout, unless they are scheduled to make an appearance that day.
“It’s always important; for me personally I find it helps me out a lot because the only thing I can control is my work ethic, and if you work hard in the gym then you work hard on the ice,” said Andrews. “It’s extremely important to stay healthy, and not only does the gym help prevent those injuries, but it can help you get back into the game quicker as well.”
Wednesday’s workout happened to be speed and agility, where Johnson and Jason both worked on movement, weaving through obstacles, leg exercises, and various different stretches that would help loosen up the body and give them more agility both on and off the ice.
“In order for us to be a better team and improve our individual goals, it starts in the gym and goes all the way through to practice, so if everyone works consistently every day, good things will come,” said Wilson.
Pete Dobbin, the IceDogs athletic therapist and trainer, organizes their workouts and is there every morning to help out with the different exercises that are assigned to each player, depending on their different traits and body types.
“The workouts during the season are mostly preventative workouts, where we address certain areas of the body where a player might have a weak spot in order to prevent injury during the season,” said Dobbin. “We try to stress as much as we can about proper sleeping habits, hydration and healthy eating throughout the week as well in order for their bodies to stay in top shape.”
During the week, the IceDogs players who are still in high school have a 10:30 curfew in which they must report to a coach via phone call to let them know they are in on time. The players who aren’t in school, like Andrews and Wilson, have an 11 p.m. curfew during the week. On weekends when there is no game the following day, the curfew may be extended for both groups of players.
“The changes the players bodies are going to make in terms of rest and recovery are going to happen during their sleep, therefore they have to be really diligent in getting to bed on time,” explained Dobbin.
After the workout, we took some time to grab a bite to eat at one of the ‘Dogs favourite local diners called Good Eats Diner. After a busy morning, we had all worked up quite the appetite. Johnson and Jason both ordered the same thing – an apparent classic among the ‘Dogs called the Breakfast Club Sandwich – a.k.a. “The Stacked”. Although the sandwich appeared to be rather filling, Wilson was especially hungry and ordered a giant pancake as a side, but he had to get the meal to go due to a 1 o’clock meeting for his line’s video review at the coach’s office in the Gatorade Garden City Complex prior to daily practice.
Depending on the day, each line combination will get a chance to meet with the coaches prior to practice to review video work on the technical aspects of the game. Here they take time to review game tape, pick out the mistakes or good things they did on the ice as a line, and take note for what to work on next game.
After Wilson left the diner, Johnson Andrews took some time to take pictures and chat with some of the fans and employees at Good Eats, where he and many other IceDogs make regular appearances due to its close proximity to White Oaks.
After a hearty lunch, it was now time to head to the rink for the IceDogs daily practice that begins at 2:30 and goes anywhere from an hour to two hours.
The practices will vary day by day depending on when the game is that week, and what drills the coaches feel will help the team improve on the things they show weaknesses in during the games.
The players who are still in high school have a much busier day as they must attend their high school classes throughout the morning before attending practice, then proceeding to their workout at White Oaks following practice, while the older players like Andrews and Wilson have the option of taking courses at Brock University or Niagara College. Andrews takes a course at Brock, while Jason Wilson will begin taking a course in January since he came to Niagara via trade during the season.
With such a full day, coaches, teachers, and teammates always stress the importance of time management and organization.
“It’s always important to stick to a schedule and always be on top of things,” explained Andrews. “When I was in high school it was much busier, and I found just getting things done right away really helped me enjoy the spare time I did have a lot more.”
During the players spare time, we discovered that hockey still remains a huge focus whether it is playing NHL 11 on Playstation or XBOX, or watching NHL hockey on TV. However, hockey isn’t their only interest. According to Andrews, many players on the team are big movie buffs, and music is also a major interest throughout the team.
“It’s cool because everyone has a different style of music,” said Andrews. “I like rock myself, but a lot of guys like country and other types of music so they have got me into a lot of the stuff I listen to now.”
Family and girlfriends are another time consumer for the team according to Andrews. Although he notes that he is still single himself, he says a lot of the guys will take trips home after the team’s last game of the weekend to visit their girlfriends and family before having to return to Niagara to resume their daily routines on Monday.
As we know now, OHL players work hard day in and day out in order to play at the highest level possible and to always improve their game. Although these players are still very young, ranging from 16-20, the responsibilities they have are much greater than the average person in their age group. Still, these players have entered into a career path that only the most elite athletes can attain, but with hard work and determination, anything is possible.
– Jeff Blay, Media Relations