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College hockey preview: Shaping up for the long grind

Weight regimens help player improve


Canisius’ Ralph Cuddemi in the weight room, at HarborCenter in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)


Ralph Cuddemi didn’t need more games. That wasn’t going to help him score more goals and develop into a consistent, skilled and gritty offensive threat. He needed more time away from the rink to achieve that.

Cuddemi found that at Canisius College. Drafted by the Erie Otters in the OHL Priority Selection in 2010, his hockey route instead led him to the Golden Griffins. While the Canadian major-junior teams offer more games, Canisius gave Cuddemi the opportunity to strengthen his weaknesses and turn good skills into great skills with focused work in the weight room.

The proof is in his numbers.

Cuddemi increased his goal production each season. Last year he finished with 22 – one shy of the school’s Division I record for most goals in a season. As he begins his senior season on Saturday when the Griffs host Penn State at HarborCenter, Cuddemi is poised for another 20-goal season. Contributing heavily to his success has been attention to detail away from the rink.

“I don’t think I came in here as the strongest skater but after this year I’ll be leaving as a pretty strong skater,” Cuddemi said. “When you’re skating down the ice and a guy comes to bump you, I felt over the years I’m getting stronger at that, at shielding guys off. Even back-checking is better and working in the corners, I feel more powerful down there and in front of the net. The stronger you are, obviously the harder it is to get knocked off your skates. I feel like it’s important to be strong on your feet and something like that can be worked on in the weight room.

“I think it’s maturing and understanding that you work out with a purpose, not just to work out.”

There has long been a culture of fitness in hockey but the sport-specific training that allows players to transfer gains in the weight room into better skills on the ice has evolved.

The program implemented by Sergio Merino, the director of athletic performance at Canisius, focuses on three areas: injury reduction, overall athleticism and education.

“Hockey’s pretty interesting because it’s one of the very few sports where their feet aren’t actually in contact with the ground. They’re in skates,” Merino said. “That right there, already from a mechanics standpoint, starts to change how you do things. The way that a hockey player pushes off to start skating is very different from the way somebody on a field sport or basketball would want to push off to start their movement.

“Obviously there’s a lot more contact in their sport. With the boards, you have to make sure that guys have the muscle mass and have the strength to be able to withstand those hits because they have a very long season. They’re going from basically mid-October and if you’re lucky enough you’re going until April. To be able to build up the resilience to make it through that whole time period is really important.”

Strength programs are designed around the hockey season. After a week or two of rest at the end of the season, Merino starts Canisius players on a postseason routine focused on addressing nagging injuries, restoring flexibility and building a general fitness foundation. Players go home for the summer and heavy lifting comes into play to add size and strength. About two months out from the start of the season, workouts include exercises to develop power and explosiveness.

By the time the season hits, players are in the weight room two to three times a week but workouts become more individualized. A first- or second-line player who had significant ice time in two games over the weekend might need a recovery workout on Monday morning. A player with less ice time may be able to complete a harder workout. More, however, isn’t always better.

“In season, it’s about maintaining the strength we have,” Merino said. “Recovery becomes the most important thing at that point. The whole week becomes how we can get you ready for the weekend. So the plan becomes much more flexible.”

Most players Merino sees come through the college hockey ranks have had at least some exposure to strength and conditioning programs from their junior teams as the practice trickles down the age group hierarchy.

For Niagara’s Kevin Patterson, off-ice training has been part of hockey since he laced up skates in his native Colorado. During his youth hockey days, he would participate in two off-ice strength training sessions plus an agility and speed workout. By the time he hit juniors, he was already lifting weights several times a week in addition to practices and games.

“My foundation is actually very strong because at a young age my program allowed me to learn how to do that stuff,” the junior defenseman said.

The three things he most loves to work on? Explosiveness, core strength and balance.

“You can tell on the ice, you feel more explosive. You feel more in control of your body,” Patterson said. “It’s stops and starts. It’s getting there quicker. You feel more powerful in your stride because it takes you less strides to move across the ice.

“Then the core stability when you’re taking on another guy who is bigger, you feel like you’re either taking control or battling with him and holding your ground. Along with that, when you get hit you’re taking that hit even better because your body is able to absorb more of that hit instead of just blowing up.”

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