Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Sean Skahan, the Anaheim Ducks strength and conditioning coach, didn’t set out for a career in the NHL. He wanted to pursue a career in Division 1 football instead. In fact, Skahan, 35, didn’t even play hockey until last summer, when he joined an adult league for the first time.
|Sean Skahan (photo: Anaheim Ducks)|
But the Quincy, Mass., native — in his ninth season with the Ducks — is now one of the NHL’s veteran strength and conditioning coaches. And one of the few whose team has won the Stanley Cup, as the Ducks did in 2007.
Skahan’s road to the NHL began in Boston as an intern at Boston University in 1998. He earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology from UMass-Boston that same year and his master’s in kinesiology from the University of Minnesota in 2001.
He was a graduate assistant strength coach while at Minnesota and served as the assistant strength and conditioning coach at both the University of North Dakota (2000-01) and Boston College (2001-02) before joining the Ducks in 2002.
Skahan currently lives in Anaheim Hills, Calif., with his wife, Hillary, and son, Will.
What is it like for a New England native to be coaching hockey in Southern California?
I love it out here in Southern California. It was odd at first because it is always sunny and warm. You don’t really associate that with hockey — especially growing up in Boston. However, hockey is hockey and you realize that you are working with an organization that is just like any other in the NHL with the same goal. It doesn’t alter my conditioning approach at all.
Who have been your biggest influences in hockey conditioning?
One of my biggest influences in not only hockey conditioning but also my career is Mike Boyle. Mike was a huge influence on me when I first started out and still is. Other people in hockey strength and conditioning who influenced me include Paul Chapman at UNH, Mike Potenza from the San Jose Sharks and Cal Dietz from the University of Minnesota.
What advice would you give to younger players?
Play different sports; don’t just focus on hockey. Playing other sports will help develop physical attributes in other sports, including hockey.
What advice would you give to parents of youth players?
Let your sons/daughters have fun with hockey. Take your time with their development.
What are your biggest conditioning challenges in dealing with NHL players?
Some of the biggest challenges in dealing with NHL players is scheduling. With an 82-game schedule, playing games is the priority. Finding the right times to get strength and conditioning work in is a challenge. Also, I work with a wide age group of players. We have players aging from 19 to 40 years old. All players have different needs.
How do training regimens change over the course of the season?
We change our training regimen every six weeks or so during the season. We will change exercises, sets and reps as I feel necessary. We will back off as the postseason gets closer so that the emphasis is on rest and recovery.
How do you recommend players approach their offseason training at the end of the season?
We recommend an active rest period of 2-4 weeks to allow for rest and recuperation from the competitive season. Then we will ease into our offseason program.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your field over the past five years?
Over the past five years, I have seen more teams take a more proactive approach to injury prevention during the training process. More people are understanding the importance of strength and conditioning in the injury-reduction process. Keeping the best players healthy is a very important aspect of my job.
What are the most common training mistakes you see with younger players? What’s the most common mistake among NHL players?
Early specialization in hockey — too much focus on hockey. Common mistakes among NHL players would be players receiving advice from trainers who don’t really know what they are doing with hockey players.
What do you work on with players to increase their recovery time between games?
We spend a large amount of time with our players in this important area. We promote proper rest and nutrition. We will also spend time working with foam rollers, massage sticks, stretching, cold tubs and other methods to help ensure that our players are recovered and ready to go each night the puck is dropped.
Nutritionally speaking, what are your biggest do’s and don’ts?
Some of the biggest do’s: Always get a post-workout shake immediately after our workouts, stay hydrated by making sure that enough fluid is consumed. Eat breakfast every day. Try to eat protein and vegetables at every meal. Some of the don’ts: Stay away from processed food, including sweets, refrain from alcohol. Don’t skip meals. We try to ensure that our players maintain a good body fat percentage; 10 percent or less is what we try to accomplish with all of our players. If they are higher, we will spend some time with the individual in proper nutritional intervention and more conditioning.
What are your own future career goals?
My future career goals include winning another Stanley Cup, working in the NHL for as long as it will have me, starting my own sports performance business, and writing a book on hockey conditioning.
Has your son begun playing hockey yet? What advice do you give him?
Will is 4, and he’s been skating for almost 2 years now. He skates 1-2 times per week. My advice right now to him is for him to keep enjoying it. I see a smile on his face the whole time he is out on the ice.
COMING IN APRIL
Beginning in April, New England Hockey Journal will debut a new monthly training column from Sean Skahan, a Quincy, Mass., native and current strength and conditioning coach for the Anaheim Ducks. Sean also blogs at SeanSkahan.com and is part owner of hockeySC.com, one of the leading online sources of hockey training information. Sean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.