As the 2021-22 season approaches, many youth players will be looking to make the jump to junior hockey. Many junior players will also be simultaneously preparing to return back to their junior teams, welcoming their new teammates in just a few weeks.
We chatted with Tony Zasowski, director of player personnel for the North American Hockey League, to see what he looks for in offseason player prep.
So, this summer did you….
Take a break from hockey?
“You need to take time away from the game,” said Zasowki. “When you’re rolling out of a youth season in April, and then you have camps and combines in April and May, and NAHL or USHL tryouts in July, the season is here before you know it. If you didn’t take at least two weeks to get away from the game, you run the risk of burnout. The season is a long ride, taking a break ensures that you’re physically and mentally prepared for it.”
Focus on strength and conditioning?
Weight training, dryland conditioning -- whatever it was, now is the time you can put an emphasis on building muscle mass.
“First and foremost, when it comes to junior hockey prep, it’s got to be about strength and conditioning,” Zasowski said. “As the players make the step out of youth hockey into junior hockey, you’re leaving the comfort of playing kids your own age, or near your own age, and you’re going to be expected to compete against men--19- and 20-year-olds. By making sure you’re doing the right things with strength and conditioning, you’re making sure you’re ready to compete against guys three or four years older.”
Focus on mental preparation?
Any sports season can be a grind. Junior hockey is no different. But all of the additional factors that come with it -- travel, being away from home, etc. -- can be a lot for players.
That’s why Zasowski says mental preparation is vital.
“The junior hockey season is a lot different if you’re coming from youth,” he said. “It doesn’t seem much different when you’re playing 60 games, but just the intensity that you’re playing at, the endurance, traveling, all that stuff. Not only does the strength and conditioning ensure you can handle the trials of the season, but just refocusing yourself and training your brain to be mentally tough is also important to success for the entire season.
“I think that gets overlooked. I think first and foremost players are focused on trying to make that team versus trying to be successful when they get on that team.”
Pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses?
“And finally, this offseason, or even now, you need to find the right things to address in your game,” Zasowski concludes. “What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Continue to build on strengths and improve weaknesses. Find a skill coach or good hockey camp where you are playing to make yourself a better hockey player.”