In case you missed the Twitter and Instagram announcement, I have re-signed for the Bristol Pitbulls for the 2016-17 campaign and will also continue as an ambassador for Cross Check Clothing. The decision to re-sign with the Pitbulls was an easy one and it is still part of my grand plan that I told my coach when I first signed after successful try-outs seven years ago. I have set myself a goal to be more of an impact player for this season and really make a difference every time I’m on the ice.
And for the partnership with Cross Check Clothing? I consider myself fortunate to be working with them. The guys are really humble and down to earth and live and breathe the game. The clothing that they are producing is appealing not only to players, but to fans alike. For me, I want to help expose the brand to more people and show that the apparel line belongs both in the changing room and in the stands. Plus it’s hella comfortable to wear and you may have seen on Instagram that I love wearing Cross Check gear to the gym too. I’m a huge believer in people that execute their vision and I really, truly want to help that brand grow. I don’t want to be the guy that just begs for sponsorship and then vanishes into thin air. Whatever influence I have, I want it to help Cross Check Clothing grow.
To say it has been a busy off-season would be a gross understatement. It has been manic and completely non-stop. As I said on the blog post about the season review, I had a difficult last season and it ended in disappointment, with not qualifying for the play-offs and being eliminated in the semi-finals of the Cup competition. That combined with the fact that I battled a rather persistent back problem for the whole season, made me question whether hockey was still on the cards for me.
The back problem wasn’t the only one that made me question whether I could rise to the challenge of another season. 2013-14 season I played through with a torn labrum and ruptured bicep tendon, which I was repaired in the off-season of 2014, 2014-15 season was amazing with winning the conference championship and play-off championship, but I battled with mental health issues that year, which knocked my confidence and I started the season not being able to play too well due to not having any strength and a limited range of motion in my right arm. 2015-2016 season was what it was due to the back. Last season I played 17 games, out of which I was 100% for five games. That’s three seasons that have been more or less ruined by injuries and my hope is that I will stay healthy for a full season.
Last time I didn’t have any injuries or issues to deal with was 2011-2012 season, when, in light of stats, I had one of my most productive seasons offensively.
For those five games where I was completely pain free, I felt that I was playing probably the best hockey of my career and would’ve probably been able to do some good things for the team. But when you’re playing with an injury where you can’t feel parts of your left leg properly and every stride feels like you have broken your ankle, it’s difficult to perform.
However, after thinking about it for about a week after the Cup semi-final loss, I still have what it takes and I’m happy to be back playing for the team I’ve represented for the past six years and will be returning for for my seventh season. I realised early on that despite all the trials and tribulations I have undergone, I had the passion for the game and I was still willing to put in the work off the ice in-order to play.
One thing I was constantly asked by family and friends was, why put yourself through that again. Aren’t you afraid that you’ll hurt yourself again. This is something that is really difficult to explain in words. The best I can do is to say that it is a fire inside me that tells me to keep pushing. I guess in every hockey players’ life there comes a time when the flame still burns but something tells you that it is time. For me the flame is there and at no point was the voice telling me that it’s time to call it quits strong enough. My life is incredibly busy, and I just could not imagine a life without hockey season in it.
I got back to work early on conditioning and have been working out to a program that has worked quite well the last two years. The only thing that I have changed in the regimen is the weight I’m lifting and I’ve added more explosive training to it. Without going into too many fitness nuances over it, I’ve also done a lot of HIIT workouts to really focus on anaerobic performance. Hockey is a game where you need to go flat out for 45 seconds max everytime you are out there. From all the conditioning work I’ve done, I’m more confident than ever. I’ve never felt this strong or good in myself (which also helps with the ongoing mental health issues), so the only thing left to do now is to get out on the ice.
One of the other areas of my game that I’ve worked on is shooting. Over the last few weeks I spent a lot of time at Hockey Base in Finland literally just working on my shots. As with fitness training, the more repetitions you do, the better you get, so I invested a grand total of €20 on a stick while I was out there and got shooting. The hardest shot with that cheap stick was clocked at 105km/h (65mph). I would go as far as to say that it would’ve been at the 80mph range if I had my TRUE stick. As a result of all the shooting work I did, I got blisters on both my hands which shows how much time I’ve dedicated to shooting. Ideally, I would like to dedicate more time to shooting and I have all the necessary equipment at home, but time is the issue.
As I posted on Instagram in June, my wife and I welcomed our daughter and with my 3-year old son wanting more time with daddy, my time to work on shooting is limited at home. I mean I guess I could do it once the kids have gone to bed, but I would hazard a guess, that I would be rather un-popular with our neighbours.
The other thing I’ve worked on at the summer has been stickhandling. This is an area that I will continue to work on throughout the season. I’ve got hands as soft as concrete, so I’m no Connor McDavid but as with everything, by practicing it will get better.
I am determined and confident going into the season. My main goal is to help the team succeed and win games. What I want is to win a championship again. While I have battled injuries and found the flame to carry on playing, I am no spring chicken anymore and would like to add another title onto the mantel piece.