A couple of years ago I stepped away from playing hockey for a while. Life had become nutty and with my business expanding I didn’t have the same time to play the game. A year or so later I returned to playing and while I had stayed in decent shape with lifting weights and doing basic cardio my hockey fitness had definitely declined. The first couple of games were humbling as I struggled to hold my own on the ice. I tell my players this all the time but failed to think it would happen to me.
The truth of the matter is that hockey is unlike anything other form of physical activity. It’s tough to train for this game, and thinking that you can lift some weights and do a little bit of running throughout the summer is not the right approach to improving your hockey fitness.
So what can be done to improve your hockey fitness? To start with you do need a base of strength and conditioning that comes with strength training. You have to add in some General Physical Preparation and Sport Specific Preparation too (both of these concepts and overall training I talk about in my book DRYLAND). Basically, it is necessary to increase your overall work capacity and sport specific work capacity as much as possible. This can be done with sled dragging/pushing, slideboard training, conditioning workouts, and sprinting all done with intervals will go a long way to preparing for the ice and developing your hockey fitness.
This however is not enough. Hockey players need to get on the ice. I generally have my players get back on the ice in late June/early July. For a week or two it should be skating drills and skills mostly that focus on balance, edge control, pivots/turns, transitional movements, and quick feet. Gradually add in puck handling and control drills, skating intervals and 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 games in a small area (in one zone for instance), before moving to playing in actual scrimmages. This is also the perfect time to take some lessons from a hockey skills coach or skating coach who can help improve your game.
Remember that hockey requires more in depth preparation in order to improve your hockey fitness. Thinking you can get out on the ice and skate yourself into shape is not a good idea, and take it from me a very humbling experience.