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July 20, 2005 - Time for NHL players to shape up

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Time for NHL players to shape up

It's impossible for Keith Primeau to forget how to play hockey, even after being away from it for a year.

"I like to compare hockey to riding a bike," said the Flyers' center and captain. "I've been playing hockey and riding a bike since I was about 5 years old, so those are just two things I can't forget, regardless of how long I'm away from them."

Of course, this year's offseason was just a tad bit longer than the usual 4-month break that Primeau and the rest of the league's players are accustomed to. The Flyers haven't touched the ice since a Game 7, Eastern Conference finals loss to Tampa Bay on May 22, 2004; it's been longer than that for other teams that didn't make the playoffs.

At least Primeau and other players - once the NHL and the players association ratify the collective bargaining agreement later this week - have the comfort of knowing there will be a hockey season this fall. He said a lot of players will come into the team workouts this summer with a more serious mind-set about their training than they had previous years to make sure they are at the top of their game once camp starts in September.

Flyers strength and conditioning coach Jim McCrossin said that even though he couldn't work with the Flyers exclusively during the lockout, he's confident that many of them did some work on their own and should have no problem getting where they need to be in the next 2 months.

"Training by yourself is a difficult thing to do," said McCrossin, who will enter his seventh season as the team's strength and conditioning coach. "Nobody can train for the wear and tear of any type of sport on their own. Your body has to get to the point where it can be able to handle those bumps and bruises again and taking a year off from any type of physical contact can make you, I don't want to say soft, but a little less able to encounter those hard hits."

One of the things McCrossin said he stresses during his workouts is the importance of flexibility to go along with strength. A typical workout with McCrossin starts with a light warmup and about 30 minutes of stretching before the actual session - which might vary from player to player - begins. This year, McCrossin is adding tai chi to his workout plan to improve the players' breathing and flexibility and reduce the chances of an injury.

John Furtado, longtime head hockey trainer at Princeton, said the extended time off possibly could help some players, if they took advantage of it.

"Most of the NHL players are pretty good about staying in shape during the offseason, but you never know, especially since this one was so extended," Furtado said. "Some players competed in other leagues, but it's just not the same stage as the NHL where you have the best players in the world playing. So, it's probably going to take a while for them to get their ice skills back to where we saw them last year, but training camp should give them enough time to get their feet wet."

Primeau said he spent his time off doing spinning workouts and spending a couple of hours in the gym, three to four times a week.

"Being in shape is so much different from being in game shape," Primeau said. "I've been lucky to work with some of the best personal and team trainers they have to offer over my 15 years in the NHL, so I have a lot of knowledge about what it takes to stay healthy and in shape over a long period of time that maybe some of the younger guys don't."